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1 

I 

Strange 
Stories 

Algernon 
Blackwood 


-> 


Heinemprm 



Strange Stories 



zs4lgernon Blackwood 




London 
W illiam Heitiemanu Ltd 



First published 1929 



Printed in Great Britain at 

The Windmill Press, Kingswood 

Surrey. 



PREFACE 

The last thing in a book which any sensible person 
reads is the introduction. For me it is a comfort- 
able assumption since it affords me an opportunity 
at the correct time and place, to explain the sins of 
omission in this collection of my short stories. 
Certain old favourites are not included for reasons 
of copyright. Nevertheless, insofar as an author 
can judge his own work, I claim for this volume 
that it is a representative collection of the best I 
have been able to do. And that I suppose is about 
all that can be said. 

My thanks are due to Macmillan & Co., John 
Murray, Eveleigh Nash & Grayson, Cassell & Co., 
and Herbert Jenkins for their courtesy in giving 
permission to include the stories whose copyright, 
respectively, they hold. 



L6XS*uu*\\. 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED i 

THE SEA FIT 8 7 

THE GLAMOUR OF THE SNOW 104 

THE TRYST x 3° 

TRANSITION HS 

THE OCCUPANT OF THE ROOM i53 

THE WINGS OF HORUS 164 

BY WATER *9? 

MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 200 

ALEXANDER ALEXANDER 239 

THE MAN WHO WAS MILLIGAN 247 

THE LITTLE BEGGAR 2<So 

THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 266 

ACCESSORY BEFORE THE FACT 3°4 

THE DEFERRED APPOINTMENT 3 12 



CONTENT S— continued 

PAGE 

ANCIENT LIGHTS 3I9 

YOU MAT TELEPHONE FROM HERE 327 

THE GOBLIN'S COLLECTION 333 

RUNNING WOLF 3+2 

THE VALLEY OF THE BEASTS 365 

THE DECOY 3gi 

CONFESSION 4I 6 

A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 439 

THE DAMNED 5 2 7 

THE WILLOWS 627 

ANCIENT SORCERIES 688 



Strange Stories 



THE MAN WHOM THE 
TREES LOVED 

i 

HE painted trees as by some special divining instinct 
of their essential qualities. He understood them. 
He knew why in an oak forest, for instance, each individual 
was utterly distinct from its fellows, and why no two 
beeches in the whole world were alike. People asked him 
down to paint a favourite lime or silver birch, for he caught 
the individuality of a tree as some catch the individuality 
of a horse. How he managed it was something of a puzzle, 
for he never had painting lessons, his drawing was often 
wildly inaccurate, and, while his perception of a Tree 
Personality was true and vivid, his rendering of it might 
almost approach the ludicrous. Yet the character and 
personality of that particular tree stood there alive beneath 
his brush — shining, frowning, dreaming, as the case might 
be, friendly or hostile, good or evil. It emerged. 

There was nothing else in the wide world that he could 
paint ; flowers and landscapes he only muddled away into 
a smudge ; with people he was helpless and hopeless ; also 
with animals. Skies he could sometimes manage, or effects 
of wind in foliage, but as a rule he left these all severely 
alone. He kept to trees, wisely following an instinct that 
was guided by love. It was quite arresting, this way he 
had of making a tree look almost like a being — alive. It 
approached the uncanny. 

i A* 



2 STRANGE STORIES 

" Yes, Sanderson knows what he's doing when he paints 
a tree ! " thought old David Bittacy, C.B., late of' the 
Woods and Forests. " Why, you can almost hear it rustle. 
You can smell, the thing. You can hear the rain drip 
through its leaves. You can almost see the branches move. 
It grows." For in this way somewhat he expressed his 
satisfaction, half to persuade himself that the twenty 
guineas were well spent (since his wife thought otherwise), 
and half to explain this uncanny reality of life that lay in 
the fine old cedar framed above his study table. 

Yet in the general view the mind of Mr. Bittacy was 
held to be austere, not to say morose. Few divined in him 
the secretly tenacious love of nature that had been fostered 
by years spent in the forests and jungles of the eastern 
world. It was odd for an Englishman, due possibly to 
that Eurasian ancestor. Surreptitiously, as though half 
ashamed of it, he had kept alive a sense of beauty that 
hardly belonged to his type, and was unusual for its vitality. 
Trees, in particular, nourished it. He, also, understood 
trees, felt a subtle sense of communion with them, born 
perhaps of those years he had lived in caring for them, 
guarding, protecting, nursing, years of solitude among their 
great shadowy presences. He kept it largely to himself, 
of course, because he knew the world he lived in. He also 
kept it from his wife— to some extent. He knew it came 
between them, knew that she feared it, was opposed. But 
what he did not know, or realise at any rate, was the extent 
to which she grasped the power which they wielded over 
his life. Her fear, he judged, was simply due to those 
years in India, when for weeks at a time his calling took 
him away from her into the jungle forests, while she 
remained at home dreading all manner of evils that might 
befall him. This, of course, explained her instinctive oppo- 
sition to the passion for woods that still influenced and 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 3 

clung to him. It was a natural survival of those anxious 
days of waiting in solitude for his safe return. 

For Mrs. Bittacy, daughter of an evangelical clergyman, 
was a self-sacrificing woman, who in most things found a 
happy duty in sharing her husband's joys and sorrows to 
the point of self-obliteration. Only in this matter of the 
trees she was less successful than in others. It remained a 
problem difficult of compromise. 

He knew, for instance, that what she objected to in this 
portrait of the cedar on their lawn was really not the price 
he had given for it, but the unpleasant way in which the 
transaction emphasised this breach between their common 
interests — the only one they had, but deep. 

Sanderson, the artist, earned little enough money by his 
strange talent ; such cheques were few and far between. 
The owners of fine or interesting trees who cared to have 
them painted singly were rare indeed ; and the " studies " 
that he made for his own delight he also kept for his own 
delight. Even were there buyers, he would not sell them. 
Only a few, and these peculiarly intimate friends, might 
even see them, for he disliked to hear the undiscerning 
criticisms of those who did not understand. Not that he 
minded laughter at his craftsmanship — he admitted it with 
scorn — but that remarks about the personality of the tree 
itself could easily wound or anger him. He resented 
slighting observations concerning them, as though insults 
offered to personal friends who could not answer for 
themselves. He was instantly up in arms. 

" It really is extraordinary," said a Woman who under- 
stood, " that you can make that cypress seem an individual, 
when in reality all cypresses are so exactly alike." 

And though the bit of calculated flattery had come so 
near to saying the right, true thing, Sanderson flushed as 



4 STRANGE STORIES 

though she had slighted a friend beneath his very nose. 
Abruptly he passed in front of her and turned the picture 
to the wall. 

"Almost as queer," he answered rudely, copying her 
silly emphasis, " as that you should have imagined indi- 
viduality in your husband, Madame, when in reality all 
men are so exactly alike ! " 

Since the only thing that differentiated her husband 
from the mob was the money for which she had married 
him, Sanderson's relations with that particular family 
terminated on the spot, chance of prospective " orders " 
with it. His sensitiveness, perhaps, was morbid. At any 
rate the way to reach his heart lay through his trees. He 
might be said to love trees. He certainly drew a splendid 
inspiration from them, and the source of a man's inspiration, 
be it music, religion, or a woman, is never a safe thing to 
criticise. 

" I do think, perhaps, it was just a little extravagant, 
dear," said Mrs. Bittacy, referring to the cedar cheque, 
" when we want a lawn-mower so badly too. But, as it 
gives you such pleasure " 

" It reminds me of a certain day, Sophia," replied the 
old gentleman, looking first proudly at herself, then fondly 
at the picture, "now long gone by. It reminds me of 
another tree — that Kentish lawn in the spring, birds singing 
in the lilacs, and some one in a muslin frock waiting patiently 
beneath a certain cedar — not the one in the picture, I know, 
but " 

" I was not waiting," she said indignantly, " I was 
picking fir-cones for the schoolroom fire " 

" Fir-cones, my dear, do not grow on cedars, and school- 
room fires were not made in June in my young days." 

" And anyhow it isn't the same cedar." 

" It has made me fond of all cedars for its sake," he 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 5 

answered, " and it reminds me that you are the same young 

girl stiU " 

She crossed the room to his side, and together they 
looked out of the window where, upon the lawn of their 
Hampshire cottage, a ragged Lebanon stood in solitary 

state. 

" You're as full of dreams as ever," she said gently, " and 
I don't regret the cheque a bit— really. Only it would 
have been more real if it had been the original tree, wouldn't 
it?" 

" That was blown down long ago. I passed the place 
last year, and there's not a sign of it left," he replied 
tenderly. And presently, when he released her from his 
side, she went up to the wall and carefully dusted the 
picture Sanderson had made of the cedar on their present 
lawn. She went all round the frame with her tiny hand- 
kerchief, standing on tiptoe to reach the top rim. 

" What I like about it," said the old fellow to himself 
when his wife had left the room, " is the way he has made 
it live. All trees have it, of course, but a cedar taught it 
to me first — the ' something' trees possess that make them 
know I'm there when I stand close and watch. I suppose 
I felt it then because I was in love, and love reveals life 
everywhere." He glanced a moment at the Lebanon 
looming gaunt and sombre through the gathering dusk. 
A curious wistful expression danced a moment through his 
eyes. " Yes, Sanderson has seen it as it is," he murmured, 
" solemnly dreaming there its dim hidden life against the 
Forest edge, and as different from that other tree in Kent 
as I am from—from the vicar, say. It's quite a stranger, 
too. I don't know anything about it really. That other 
cedar I loved ; this old fellow I respect. Friendly though 
— yes, on the whole quite friendly. He's painted the 
friendliness right enough. He saw that. I'd like to know 



6 STRANGE STORIES 

that man better, " he added. " I'd like to ask him how he 
saw so clearly that it stands there between this cottage and 
the Forest — yet somehow more in sympathy with us than 
with the mass of woods behind — a sort cf go-between. 
That I never noticed before. I see it now — through 
his eyes. It stands there like a sentinel — protective 
rather." 

He turned away abruptly to look through the window. 
He saw the great encircling mass of gloom that was the 
Forest, fringing their little lawn. It pressed up closer in 
the darkness. The prim garden with its formal beds of 
flowers seemed an impertinence almost — some little 
coloured insect that sought to settle on a sleeping monster 
— some gaudy fly that danced impudently down the edge 
of a great river that could engulf it with a toss of its 
smallest wave. That Forest with its thousand years of 
growth and its deep spreading being was some such 
slumbering monster, yes. Their cottage and garden stood 
too near its running lip. When the winds were strong 
and lifted its shadowy skirts of black and purple. . . . He 
loved this feeling of the Forest Personality ; he had always 
loved it. 

" Queer," he reflected, " awfully queer, that trees should 
bring me such a sense of dim, vast living ! I used to feel 
it particularly, I remember, in India ; in Canadian woods 
as well ; but never in little English woods till here. And 
Sanderson's the only man I ever knew who felt it too. 
He's never said so, but there's the proof," and he turned 
again to the picture that he loved. A thrill of unaccustomed 
life ran through him as he looked. " I wonder, by Jove, 
I wonder," his thoughts ran on, " whether a tree — er — in 
any lawful meaning of the term can be — alive. I remember 
some writing fellow telling me long ago that trees had once 
been moving things, animal organisms of some sort, that 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 7 

had stood so long feeding, sleeping, dreaming, or something, 
in the same place, that they had lost the power to get 
away . . . ! " 

Fancies flew pell-mell about his mind, and, lighting a 
cheroot, he dropped into an armchair beside the open 
window and let them play. Outside the blackbirds whistled 
in the shrubberies across the lawn. He smelt the earth 
and trees and flowers, the perfume of mown grass, and the 
bits of open heath-land far away in the heart of the woods. 
The summer wind stirred very faintly through the leaves. 
But the great New Forest hardly raised her sweeping 
skirts of black and purple shadow. 

Mr. Bittacy, however, knew intimately every detail of 
that wilderness of trees within. He knew all the purple 
coombs splashed with yellow waves of gorse ; sweet with 
juniper and myrtle, and gleaming with clear and dark-eyed 
pools that watched the sky. There hawks hovered, circling 
hour by hour, and the flicker of the peewit's flight with its 
melancholy, petulant cry, deepened the sense of stillness. 
He knew the solitary pines, dwarfed, tufted, vigorous, that 
sang to every lost wind, travellers like the gipsies who 
pitched their bush-like tents beneath them ; he knew the 
shaggy ponies, with foals like baby centaurs ; the chattering 
jays, the milky call of cuckoos in the spring, and the boom 
of the bittern from the lonely marshes. The undergrowth 
of watching hollies, he knew too, strange and mysterious, 
with their dark, suggestive beauty, and the yellow shimmer 
of their pale dropped leaves. 

Here all the Forest lived and breathed in safety, secure 
from mutilation. No terror of the axe could haunt the 
peace of its vast subconscious life, no terror of devastating 
Man afflict it with the dread of premature death. It knew 
itself supreme ; it spread and preened itself without con- 
cealment. It set no spires to carry warnings, for no wind 



8 STRANGE STORIES 

brought messages of alarm as it bulged outwards to the 
sun and stars. 

But, once its leafy portals left behind, the trees of the 
countryside were otherwise. The houses threatened them ; 
they knew themselves in danger. The roads were no 
longer glades of silent turf, but noisy, cruel ways by which 
men came to attack them. They were civilised, cared for 
— but caredJor in order that some day they might be put 
to death. Tiven in the villages, where the solemn and 
immemorial repose of giant chestnuts aped security, the 
tossing of a silver birch against their mass, impatient in 
the littlest wind, brought warning. Dust clogged their 
leaves. The inner humming of their quite life became 
inaudible beneath the scream and shriek of clattering 
traffic. They longed and prayed to enter the great Peace 
of the Forest yonder, but they could not move. They 
knew, moreover, that the Forest with its august, deep 
splendour despised and pitied them. They were a thing 
of artificial gardens, and belonged to beds of flowers all 
forced to grow one way. . . . 

" I'd like to know that artist fellow better," was the 
thought upon which he returned at length to the things 
of practical life. " I wonder if Sophia would mind him 

here for a bit ? " He rose with the sound of the gong, 

brushing the ashes from his speckled waistcoat. He pulled 
the waistcoat down. He was slim and spare in figure, 
active in his movements. In the dim light, but for that 
silvery moustache, he might easily have passed for a man 
of forty. " I'll suggest it to her anyhow," he decided on 
his way upstairs to dress. His thought really was that 
Sanderson could probably explain this world of things he 
had always felt about — trees. A man who could paint 
the soul of a cedar in that way must know it all. 

" Why not f " she gave her verdict later over the bread- 



jg THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 9 

and-butter pudding ; " unless you think he'd find it dull 
without companions." 

" He would paint all day in the Forest, dear. I'd like 
to pick his brains a bit, too, if I could manage it." 

" You can manage anything, David," was what she 
answered, for this elderly childless couple used an affec- 
tionate politeness long since deemed old-fashioned. The 
remark, however, displeased her, making her f|el uneasy, 
and she did not notice his rejoinder, smiling his pleasure 
and content — " Except yourself and our bank account, 
my dear." This passion of his for trees was of old a bone 
of contention, though very mild contention. It frightened 
her. That was the truth. The Bible, her Baedeker for 
earth and heaven, did not mention it. Her husband, while 
humouring her, could never alter that instinctive dread she 
had. He soothed, but never changed her. She liked the 
woods, perhaps as spots for shade and picnics, but she 
could not, as he did, love them. 

And after dinner, with a lamp beside the open window, 
he read aloud from The Times the evening post had brought, 
such fragments as he thought might interest her. The 
custom was invariable, except on Sundays, when, to please 
his wife, he dozed over Tennyson or Farrar as their mood 
might be. She knitted while he read, asked gentle ques- 
tions, told him his voice was a " lovely reading voice," and 
enjoyed the little discussions that occasions prompted 
because he always let her win them with " Ah, Sophia, 
I had never thought of it quite in that way before ; but 
now you mention it I must say I think there's something 
in it. ..." 

For David Bittacy was wise. It was long after marriage, 
during his months of loneliness spent with trees and forests 
in India, his wife waiting at home in the Bungalow, that 



io STRANGE STORIES 

his other, deeper side had developed the strange passion 
that she could not understand. And after one or two 
serious attempts to let her share it with him, he had given 
up and learned to hide it from her. He learned, that is, 
to speak of it only casually ; for since she knew it was 
there, to keep silence altogether would only increase her 
pain. So from time to time he skimmed the surface just 
to let her show him where he was wrong and think she won 
the day. It remained a debatable land of compromise. 
He listened with patience to her criticisms, her excursions 
and alarms, knowing that while it gave her satisfaction, 
it could not change himself. The thing lay in him too 
deep and true for change. But, for peace's sake, 
some meeting-place was desirable, and he found it 
thus. 

It was her one fault in his eyes, this religious mania 
carried over from her up-bringing, and it did no serious 
harm. Great emotion could shake it sometimes out of ber. 
She clung to it because her father taught it her and not 
because she had thought it out for herself. Indeed, like 
many women, she never really thought at all, but merely 
reflected the images of others' thinking which she had 
learned to see. So, wise in his knowledge of human 
nature, old David Bittacy accepted the pain of being 
obliged to keep a portion of his inner life shut off from, 
the woman he deeply loved. He regarded her little 
biblical phrases as oddities that still clung to a rather fine, 
big soul — like horns and little useless things some animals 
have not yet lost in the course of evolution while they have 
outgrown their use. 

" My dear, what is it ? You frightened me!" She 
asked it suddenly, sitting up so abruptly that her cap 
dropped sideways almost to her ear. For David Bittacy 
behind his crackling paper had uttered a sharp exclamation 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED u 

of surprise. He had lowered the sheet and was staring at 
her over the tops of his gold glasses. 

" Listen to this, if you please," he said, a note of eagerness 
in his voice, "listen to this, my dear Sophia. It's from 
an address by Francis Darwin before the Royal Society. 
He is president, you know, and son of the great Darwin. 
Listen carefully, I beg you. It is most significant." 

" I am listening, David," she said with some astonish- 
ment, looking up. She stopped her knitting. For a second 
she glanced behind her. Something had suddenly changed 
in the room, and it made her feel wide awake, though before 
she had been almost dozing. Her husband's voice and 
manner had introduced this new thing. Her instincts rose 
in warning. " Do read it, dear." He took a deep breath, 
looking first again over the rims of his glasses to make quite 
sure of her attention. He had evidently come across some- 
thing of genuine interest, although she herself often found 
the passages from these " Addresses " somewhat heavy. 

In a deep, emphatic voice he read aloud : 

" ' It is impossible to know whether or not plants are 
conscious ; but it is consistent with the doctrine of con- 
tinuity that in all living things there is something psychic, 
and if we accept this point of view 

" If" she interrupted, scenting danger. 

He ignored the interruption as a thing of slight value 
he was accustomed to. 

" ' If we accept this point of view,' " he continued, 
" ' we must believe that in plants there exists a faint copy 
of what we know as consciousness in ourselves.'' " 

He laid the paper down and steadily stared at her. 
Their eyes met. He had italicised the last phrase. 

For a minute or two his wife made no reply or comment. 
They stared at one another in silence. He waited for the 
meaning of the words to reach her understanding with full 



12 STRANGE STORIES 

import. Then he turned and read them again in part, 
while she, released from that curious driving look in his 
eyes, instinctively again glanced over her shoulder round 
the room. It was almost as if she felt some one had come 
in to them unnoticed. 

" We must believe that in plants there exists a faint 
copy of what we know as consciousness in ourselves." 

" If" she repeated lamely, feeling before the stare of 
those questioning eyes she must say something, but not 
yet having gathered her wits together quite. 

" Consciousness" he rejoined. And then he added 
gravely : " That, my dear, is the statement of a scientific 
man of the Twentieth Century." 

Mrs. Bittacy sat forward in her chair so that her silk 
flounces .crackled louder than the newspaper. She made 
a characteristic little sound between sniffing and snorting. 
She put her shoes closely together, with her hands upon 
her knees. 

" David," she said quietly, " I think these scientific 
men are simply losing their heads. There is nothing in 
the Bible that I can remember about any such thing 
whatsoever." 

" Nothing, Sophia, that I can remember either," he 
answered patiently. Then, after a pause, he added, half 
to himself perhaps more than to her : " And, now that I 
come to think about it, it seems that Sanderson once said 
something to me that was similar." 

" Then Mr. Sanderson is a wise and thoughtful man, and 
a safe man," she quickly took him up, " if he said that." 

For she thought her husband referred to her remark 
about the Bible, and not to her judgment of the scientific 
men. And he did not correct her mistake. 

" And plants, you see, dear, are not the same thing as 
trees," she drove her advantage home, " not quite, that is." 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 13 

" I agree," said David quietly ; " but both belong to 
the great vegetable kingdom." 

There was a moment's pause before she answered. 

" Pah ! the vegetable kingdom, indeed ! " She tossed 
her pretty old head. And into the words she put a degree 
of contempt that, could the vegetable kingdom have heard 
it, might have made it feel ashamed for covering a third 
of the world with its wonderful tangled network of roots 
and branches, delicate shaking leaves, and its millions of 
spires that caught the sun and wind and rain. Its very 
right to existence seemed in question. 



II 

SANDERSON accordingly came down, and on the 
whole his short visit was a success. Why he came at 
all was a mystery to those who heard of it, for he never paid 
visits and was certainly not the kind of man to court a 
customer. There must have been something in Bittacy 
he liked. 

Mrs. Bittacy was glad when he left. He brought no 
dress-suit for one thing, not even a dinner-jacket, and he 
wore very low collars with big balloon ties like a Frenchman, 
and let his hair grow longer than was nice, she felt. Not 
that these things were important, but that she considered 
them symptoms of something a little disordered. The 
ties were unnecessarily flowing. 

For all that he was an interesting man, and, in spite of 
his eccentricities of dress and so forth, a gentleman. 
" Perhaps," she reflected in her genuinely charitable heart, 
" he had other uses for the twenty guineas, an invalid sister 
or an old mother to support ! " She had no notion of 
the cost of brushes, frames, paints, and canvases. Also 



14 STRANGE STORIES 

she forgave him much for the sake of his beautiful eyes and 
his eager enthusiasm of manner. So many men of thirty 
were already blase\ 

Still, when the visit was over, she felt relieved. She 
said nothing about bis coming a second time, and her 
husband, she was glad to notice, had likewise made no 
suggestion. For, truth to tell, the way the younger man 
engrossed the older, keeping him out for hours in the 
Forest, talking on the lawn in the blazing sun, and in the 
evenings when the damp of dusk came creeping out from 
the surrounding woods, all regardless of his age and usual 
habits, was not quite to her taste. Of course, Mr. Sanderson 
did not know how easily those attacks of Indian fever came 
back, but David surely might have told him. 

They talked trees from morning till night. It stirred 
in her the old subconscious trail of dread, a trail that led 
ever into the darkness of big woods ; and such feelings, 
as her early evangelical training taught her, were temptings. 
To regard them in any other way was to play with danger. 

Her mind, as she watched these two, was charged with 
curious thoughts of dread she could not understand, yet 
feared the more on that account. The way they studied 
that old mangy cedar was a trifle unnecessary, unwise, she 
felt. It was disregarding the sense of proportion which 
deity had set upon the world for men's safe guidance. 

Even after dinner they smoked their cigars upon the low 
branches that swept down and touched the lawn, until at 
length she insisted on their coming in. Cedars, she had 
somewhere heard, were not safe after sundown ; it was 
not wholesome to be too near them ; to sleep beneath them 
was even dangerous, though what the precise danger was 
she had forgotten. The upas was the tree she really meant. 

At any rate she summoned David in, and Sanderson 
came presently after him. 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 15 

For a long time, before deciding on this peremptory 
step, she had watched them surreptitiously from the 
drawing-room window — her husband and her guest. The 
dusk enveloped them with its damp veil of gauze. She 
saw the glowing tips of their cigars, and heard the drone 
of voices. Bats flitted overhead, and big, silent moths 
whirred softly over the rhododendron blossoms. And it 
came suddenly to her, while she watched, that her husband 
had somehow altered these last few days — since Mr. 
Sanderson's arrival in fact. A change had come over him, 
though what it was she could not say. She hesitated, 
indeed, to search. That was the instinctive dread operating 
in her. Provided it passed she would rather not know. 
Small things, of course, she noticed ; small outward signs. 
He had neglected The Times for one thing, left off his 
speckled waistcoats for another. He was absent-minded 
sometimes ; showed vagueness in practical details where 
hitherto he showed decision. And — he had begun to talk 
in his sleep again. 

These and a dozen other small peculiarities came suddenly 
upon her with the rush of a combined attack. They brought 
with them a faint distress that made her shiver. Momen- 
tarily her mind was startled, then confused, as her eyes 
picked out the shadowy figures in the dusk, the cedar 
covering them, the Forest close at their backs. And then, 
before she could think, or seek internal guidance as her 
habit was, this whisper, muffled and very hurried, ran 
across her brain : " It's Mr. Sanderson. Call David in 
at once ! " 

And she had done so. Her shrill voice crossed the lawn 
and died away into the Forest, quickly smothered. No 
echo followed it. The sound fell dead against the rampart 
of a thousand listening trees. 

" The damp is so very penetrating, even in summer," 



16 STRANGE STORIES 

she murmured when they came obediently. She was half 
surprised at her own audacity, half repentant. They came 
so meekly at her call. " And my husband is sensitive to 
fever from the East. No, flease do not throw away your 
cigars. We can sit by the open window and enjoy the 
evening while you smoke." 

She was very talkative for a moment ; subconscious 
excitement was the cause. 

" It is so still — so wonderfully still," she went on, as 
no one spoke, " so peaceful, and the air so very sweet . . . 
and God is always near to those who need His aid." The 
words slipped out before she realised quite what she was 
saying, yet fortunately, in time to lower her voice, for no 
one heard them. They were, perhaps, an instinctive 
expression of relief. It flustered her that she could have 
said the thing at all. 

Sanderson brought her shawl and helped to arrange the 
chairs ; she thanked him in her old-fashioned, gentle way, 
declining the lamps which he had offered to light. " They 
attract the moths and insects so, I think ! " 

The three of them sat there in the gloaming, Mr. 
Bittacy's white moustache and his wife's yellow shawl 
gleaming at either end of the little horseshoe, Sanderson 
with his wild black hair and shining eyes midway between 
them. The painter went on talking softly, continuing 
evidently the conversation begun with his host beneath the 
cedar. Mrs. Bittacy, on her guard, listened — uneasily. 

" For trees, you see, rather conceal themselves in day- 
light. They reveal themselves fully only after sunset. I 
never know a tree," he bowed here slightly towards the lady 
as though to apologise for something he felt she would not 
quite understand or like, " until I've seen it in the night. 
Your cedar for instance," looking towards her husband 
again so that Mrs. Bittacy caught the gleaming of his turned 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 17 

eyes, " I failed with badly at first, because I did it in the 
morning. You shall see to-morrow what I mean — that 
first sketch is upstairs in my portfolio ; it's quite another 
tree to the one you bought. That view "—he leaned 
forward, lowering his voice — " I caught one morning about 
two o'clock in very faint moonlight and the stars. I saw 
the naked being of the thing " 

" You mean that you went out, Mr. Sanderson, at that 
hour ? " the old lady asked with astonishment and mild 
rebuke. She did not care particularly for his choice of 
adjectives either. 

" I fear it was rather a liberty to take in another's house, 
perhaps," he answered courteously. " But, having chanced 
to wake, I saw the tree from my window, and made my 
way downstairs." 

" It's a wonder Boxer didn't bite you ; he sleeps loose 
in the hall," she said. 

" On the contrary. The dog came out with me. I 
hope," he added, " the noise didn't disturb you, though it's 
rather late to say so. I feel quite guilty." His white teeth 
showed in the dusk as he smiled. A smell of earth and 
flowers stole in through the window on a breath of wandering 
air. 

Mrs. Bittacy said nothing at the moment. " We both 
sleep like tops," put in her husband, laughing. " You're 
a courageous man, though, Sanderson ; and, by Jove, the 
picture justifies you. Few artists would have taken so 
much trouble, though Tread once that Holman Hunt, 
Rossetti, or some one of that lot, painted all night in his 
orchard to get an effect of moonlight that he wanted." 

He chattered on. His wife was glad to hear his voice ; 
it made her feel more easy in her mind. But presently 
the other held the floor again, and her thoughts grew 
darkened and afraid. Instinctively she feared the influence 



1 8 STRANGE STORIES 

on her husband. The mystery and wonder that lie in 
woods, in forests, in great gatherings of trees everywhere, 
seemed so real and present while he talked. 

" The Night transfigures all things in a way," he was 
saying ; " but nothing so searchingly as trees. From 
behind a veil that sunlight hangs before them in the day 
they emerge and show themselves. Even buildings do 
tnat — m a measure — but trees particularly. In the day- 
time they sleep ; at night they wake, they manifest, turn 
active — live. You remember," turning politely again in 
the direction of his hostess, " how clearly Henley under- 
stood that ? " 

" That socialist person, you mean ? " asked the lady. 
Her tone and accent made the substantive sound criminal. 
It almost hissed, the way she uttered it. 

" The poet, yes," replied the artist tactfully, " the friend 
of Stevenson, you remember, Stevenson who wrote those 
charming children's verses." 

He quoted in a low voice the lines he meant. It was, 
for once, the time, the place, and the setting all together. 
The words floated out across the lawn towards the wall of 
blue darkness where the big Forest swept the little garden 
with its league-long curve that was like the shore-line of 
a sea. A wave of distant sound that was like surf accom- 
panied his voice, as though the wind was fain to listen too : 

Not to the staring Day, 

For all the importunate questionings he pursues 

In his big, violent voice, 

Shall those mild things of bulk and multitude, 

The trees — God's sentinels . . . 

Yield of their huge, unutterable selves. 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 19 

But at the word 

Of the ancient, sacerdotal Night, 

Night of the many secrets, whose effect — 

Transfiguring, hierophantic, dread — 

Themselves alone may fully apprehend, / 

They tremble and are changed : 

In each the uncouth, individual soul 

Looms forth and glooms 

Essential, and, their bodily presences 

Touched with inordinate significance, 

Wearing the darkness like a livery 

Of some mysterious and tremendous guild, 

They brood — they menace — they appal. 

The voice of Mrs. Bittacy presently broke the silence 
that followed. 

" I like that part about God's sentinels," she murmured. 
There was no sharpness in her tone ; it was hushed and 
quiet. The truth, so musically uttered, muted her shrill 
objections though it had not lessened her alarm. Her 
husband made no comment ; his cigar, she noticed, had 
gone out. 

" And old trees in particular," continued the artist as 
though to himself, " have very definite personalities. You 
can offend, wound, please them ; the moment you stand 
within their shade you feel whether they come out to you, 
or whether they withdraw." He turned abruptly towards 
his host. " You know that singular essay of Prentice 
Mulford's, no doubt, " God in the Trees "—extravagant 
perhaps, but yet with a fine true beauty in it ? You've 
never read it, no ? " he asked. 

But it was Mrs. Bittacy who answered ; her husband 
keeping his curious deep silence. 

" I never did ! " It fell like a drip of cold water from 



2o STRANGE STORIES 

the face muffled in the yellow shawl ; even a child could 
have supplied the remainder of the unspoken thought. 

"Ah," said Sanderson gently, " but there is ' God ' in 
the trees, God in a very subtle aspect and sometimes — I 
have known the trees express it too — that which is not 
God — dark and terrible. Have you ever noticed, too, how 
clearly trees show what they want — choose their com- 
panions, at least ? How beeches, for instance, allow no 
life too near them — birds or squirrels in their boughs, nor 
any growth beneath ? The silence in the beech wood is 
quite terrifying often ! And how pines like bilberry bushes 
at their feet and sometimes little oaks — all trees making 
a clear, deliberate choice, and holding firmly to it ? Some 
trees obviously — it's very strange and marked — seem to 
prefer the human." 

The old lady sat up crackling, for this was more than 
she could permit. Her stiff silk dress emitted little sharp 
reports. 

" We know," she answered, " that He was said to have 
walked in the garden in the cool of the evening " — the 
gulp betrayed the effort that it cost her — " but we are 
nowhere told that He hid in the trees, or anything like that. 
Trees, after all, we must remember, are only large 
vegetables." 

" True," was the soft answer, " but in everything that 
grows, has life, that is, there's mystery past all finding out. 
The wonder that lies hidden in our own souls lies also 
hidden, I venture to assert, in the stupidity and silence of 
a mere potato." 

The observation was not meant to be amusing. It was 
not amusing. No one laughed. On the contrary, the 
words conveyed in too literal a sense the feeling that 
haunted all that conversation. Each one in his own way 
realised — with beauty, with wonder, with alarm — that the 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 21 

talk had somehow brought the whole vegetable kingdom 
nearer to that of man. Some link had been established 
between the two. It was not wise, with that great 
Forest listening at their very doors, to speak so plainly. 
The Forest edged up closer while they did so. 

And Mrs. Bittacy, anxious to interrupt the horrid spell, 
broke suddenly in upon it with a matter-of-fact suggestion. 
She did not like her husband's prolonged silence, stillness. 
He seemed so negative — so changed. 

" David," she said, raising her voice, " I think you're 
feeling the dampness. It's grown chilly. The fever comes 
so suddenly, you know, and it might be wise to take the 
tincture. I'll go and get it, dear, at once. It's better." 
And before he could object she had left the room to bring 
the homoeopathic dose that she believed in, and that, to 
please her, he swallowed by the tumbler-full from week 
to week. 

And the moment the door closed behind her, Sanderson 
began again, though now in quite a different tone. Mr. 
Bittacy sat up in his chair. The two men obviously 
resumed the conversation — the real conversation inter- 
rupted beneath the cedar — and left aside the sham one 
which was so much dust merely thrown in the old lady's 
eyes. 

"Trees love you, that's the fact," he said earnestly. 
" Your service to them all these years abroad has made 
them know you." 

" Know me ? " 

" Made them, yes " — he paused a moment, then added 
— " made them aware of your presence ; aware of a force 
outside themselves that deliberately seeks their welfare, 
don't you see ? " 

" By Jove, Sanderson ! " This put into plain 

language actual sensations he had felt, yet had never dared 



22 STRANGE STORIES 

to phrase in words before. " They get into touch with me, 
as it were ? " he ventured, laughing at his own sentence, 
yet laughing only with his lips 

" Exactly," was the quick, emphatic reply. " They seek 
to blend with something they feel instinctively to be good 
for them, helpful to their essential beings, encouraging to 
their best expression — their life." 

" Good Lord, sir ! " Bittacy heard himself saying, 
" but you're putting my own thoughts into words. D'you 
know, I've felt something like that for years. As 

though " he looked round to make sure his wife was 

not there, then finished the sentence — " as though the trees 
were after me ! " 

" ' Amalgamate ' seems the best word, perhaps," said 
Sanderson slowly. " They would draw you to themselves. 
Good forces, you see, always seek to merge ; evil to 
separate ; that's why Good in the end must always win 
the day — everywhere. The accumulation in the long run 
becomes overwhelming. Evil tends to separation, disso- 
lution, death. The comradeship of trees, their instinct to 
run together, is a vital symbol. Trees in a mass are good ; 
alone, you may take it generally, are — well, dangerous. 
Look at a monkey-puzzler, or better still, a holly. 
Look at it, watch it, understand it. Did you ever see 
more plainly an evil thought made Visible ? They're 
wicked. Beautiful, too, oh yes ! There's a strange, mis- 
calculated beauty often in evil " 

" That cedar, then ? " 

" Not evil, no ; but alien, rather. Cedars grow in 
forests all together. The poor thing has drifted, that 
is all." 

They were getting rather deep. Sanderson, talking 
against time, spoke so fast. It was too condensed. 
Bittacy hardly followed that last bit. His mind floundered 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 23 

among his own less definite, less sorted thoughts, till 
presently another sentence from the artist startled him 
into attention again. 

" That cedar will protect you here, though, because you 
both have humanised it by your thinking so lovingly 
of its presence. The others can't get past it, as it 
were." 

" Protect me ! " he exclaimed. " Protect me from their 
love ? " 

Sanderson laughed. " We're getting rather mixed," he 
said ; " we're talking of one thing in the terms of another 
really. But what I mean is — you see — that their love for 
you, their ' awareness ' of your personality and presence 
involves the idea of winning you — across the border — into 
themselves — into their world of living. It means, in a 
way, taking you over." 

The ideas the artist started in his mind ran furious wild 
races to and fro. It was like a maze sprung suddenly into 
movement. The whirling of the intricate lines bewildered 
him. They went so fast, leaving but half an explanation 
of their goal. He followed first one, then another, but a 
new one always dashed across to intercept before he could 
get anywhere. 

" But India," he said, presently in a lower voice, " India 
is so far away — from this little English forest. The trees, 
too, are utterly different for one thing ? " 

The rustle of skirts warned of Mrs. Bittacy's approach. 
This was a sentence he could turn round another way in 
case she came up and pressed for explanation. 

" There is communion among trees all the world over," 
was the strange, quick reply. " They always know." 

" They always know ! You think then ? " 

" The winds, you see — the great, swift carriers ! They 
have their ancient rights of way about the world. An 



24 STRANGE STORIES 

easterly wind, for instance, carrying on stage by stage as 
it were — linking dropped messages and meanings from land 
to land like the birds — an easterly wind " 

Mrs. Bittacy swept in upon them with the tumbler 

" There, David," she said, " that will ward off any 
beginnings of attack. Just a spoonful, dear. Oh, oh ! 
not all ! " for he had swallowed half the contents at a single 
gulp as usual ; " another dose before you go to bed, and 
the balance in the morning, first thing when you wake." 

She turned to her guest, who put the tumbler down for 
her upon a table at his elbow. She had heard them speak 
of the east wind. She emphasised the warning she had 
misinterpreted. The private part of the conversation came 
to an abrupt end. 

" It is the one thing that upsets him more than any 
other— an east wind," she said, "and I am glad, Mr. 
Sanderson, to hear you think so too." 



Ill 

A DEEP hush followed, in the middle of which an owl 
was heard calling its muffled note in the forest. A 
big moth whirred with a soft collision against one of the 
windows. Mrs. Bittacy started slightly, but no one spoke. 
Above the trees the stars were faintly visible. From the 
distance came the barking of a dog. 

Bittacy, relighting his cigar, broke the little spell of 
silence that had caught all three. 

" It's rather a comforting thought," he said, throwing 
the match out of the window, " that life is about us every- 
where, and that there is really no dividing line between 
what we call organic and inorganic." 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 25 

" The universe, yes," said Sanderson, " is all one, really. 
We're puzzled by the gaps we cannot see across, but as a 
fact, I suppose, there are no gaps at all." 

Mrs. Bittacy rustled ominously, holding her peace mean- 
while. She feared long words she did not understand. 
Beelzebub lay hid among too many syllables. 

" In trees and plants especially, there dreams an exquisite 
life that no one yet has proved unconscious." 

" Or conscious either, Mr. Sanderson," she neatly inter- 
jected. " It's only man that was made after His image, 
not shrubberies and things. . . ." 

Her husband interposed without delay. 

" It is not necessary," he explained suavely, " to say 
that they're alive in the sense that we are alive. At the 
same time," with an eye to his wife, " I see no harm in 
holding, dear, that all created things contain some measure 
of His life Who made them. It's only beautiful to hold 
that He created nothing dead. We are not pantheists 
for all that ! " he added soothingly. 

" Oh, no ! Not that, I hope ! " The word alarmed her. 
It was worse than pope. Through her puzzled mind stole 
a stealthy, dangerous thing . . . like a panther. 

" I like to think that even in decay there's life," the 
painter murmured. "The falling apart of rotten wood 
breeds sentiency ; there's force and motion in the falling 
of a dying leaf, in the breaking up and crumbling of every- 
thing indeed. And take an inert stone : it's crammed 
with heat and weight and potencies of all sorts. What 
holds its particles together indeed ? We understand it as 
little as gravity or why a needle always turns to the 
' North.' Both things may be a mode of life. . . ." 

" You think a compass has a soul, Mr. Sanderson ? " 
exclaimed the lady with a crackling of her silk flounces that 
conveyed a sense of outrage even more plainly than her 



2 6 STRANGE STORIES 

tone. The artist smiled to himself in the darkness, but it 
was Bittacy who hastened to reply. 

" Our friend merely suggests that these mysterious 
agencies," he said quietly, " may be due to some kind of 
life we cannot understand. Why should water only run 
downhill ? Why should trees grow at right angles to the 
surface of the ground and towards the sun ? Why should 
the worlds spin for ever on their axes ? Why should fire 
change the form of everything it touches without really 
destroying them ? To say these things follow the law of 
their being explains nothing. Mr. Sanderson merely sug- 
gests — poetically, my dear, of course — that these may be 
manifestations of life, though life at a different stage to 
ours." 

" The ' breath of life,' we read, ' He breathed into 
them.' These things do not breathe." She said it with 
triumph. 

Then Sanderson put in a word. But he spoke rather 
to himself or to his host than by way of serious rejoinder 
to the ruffled lady. 

" But plants do breathe too, you know," he said. " They 
breathe, they eat, they digest, they move about, and they 
adapt themselves to their environment as men and animals 
do. They have a nervous system too ... at least a 
complex system of nuclei which have some of the qualities 
of nerve cells. They may have memory too. Certainly, 
they know definite action in response to stimulus. And 
though this may be physiological, no one has proved that 
it is only that, and not — psychological." 

He did not notice, apparently, the little gasp that was 
audible behind the yellow shawl. Bittacy cleared his 
throat, threw his extinguished cigar upon the lawn, crossed 
and recrossed his legs. 

" And in trees," continued the other, " behind a great 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 27 

forest, for instance," pointing towards the woods, " may 
stand a rather splendid Entity that manifests through all 
the thousand individual trees — some huge collective life, 
quite as minutely and delicately organised as our own. It 
might merge and blend with ours under certain conditions, 
so that we could understand it by being it, for a time at 
least. It might even engulf human vitality into the 
immense whirlpool of its own vast dreaming life. The pull 
of a big forest on a man can be tremendous and utterly 
overwhelming." 

The mouth of Mrs. Bittacy was heard to close with a 
snap. Her shawl, and particularly her crackling dress, 
exhaled the protest that burned within her like a pain. 
She was too distressed to be overawed, but at the same 
time too confused 'mid the litter of words and meanings 
half understood, to find immediate phrases she could use. 
Whatever the actual meaning of his language might be, 
however, and whatever subtle dangers lay concealed behind 
them meanwhile, they certainly wove a kind of gentle spell 
with the glimmering darkness that held all three delicately 
enmeshed there by that open window. The odours of dewy 
lawn, flowers, trees, and earth formed part of it. 

" The moods," he continued, " that people waken in us- 
are due to their hidden life affecting our own. Deep calls 
to deep. A person, for instance, joins you in an empty 
room : you both instantly change. The new arrival, 
though in silence, has caused a change of mood. May not 
the moods of Nature touch and stir us in virtue of a similar 
prerogative ? The sea, the hills, the desert, wake passion, 
joy, terror, as the case may be ; for a few, perhaps," he 
glanced significantly at his host so that Mrs. Bittacy again 
caught the turning of his eyes, " emotions of a curious, 
flaming splendour that are quite nameless. Well . . . 
whence come these powers ? Surely from nothing that is 



28 STRANGE STORIES 

^ . . dead ! Does not the influence of a forest, its sway 
And strange ascendancy over certain minds, betray a direct 
manifestation of life ? It lies otherwise beyond all explana- 
tion, this mysterious emanation of big woods. Some 
natures, of course, deliberately invite it. The authority 
of a host of trees " — his voice grew almost solemn as he 
said the words — " is something not to be denied. One feels 
it here, I think, particularly." 

There was considerable tension in the air as he ceased 
speaking. Mr. Bittacy had not intended that the talk 
should go so far. They had drifted. He did not wish to 
see his wife unhappy or afraid, and he was aware — acutely 
.so — that her feelings were stirred to a point he did not care 
-about. Something in her, as he put it, was "working up" 
towards explosion. 

He sought to generalise the conversation, diluting this 
accumulated emotion by spreading it. 

" The sea is His and He made it," he suggested vaguely, 
hoping Sanderson would take the hint, " and with the trees 
it is the same. . . ." 

" The whole gigantic vegetable kingdom, yes," the artist 
took him up, " all at the service of man, for food, for shelter 
and for a thousand purposes of his daily life. Is it not 
striking what a lot of the globe they cover . . . exquisitely 
organised life, yet stationary, always ready to our hand 
when we want them, never running away ? But the taking 
them, for all that, not so easy. One man shrinks from 
picking flowers, another from cutting down trees. And, 
it's curious that most of the forest tales and legends are 
dark, mysterious, and somewhat ill-omened. The forest- 
beings are rarely gay and harmless. The forest life was 
felt as terrible. Tree-worship still survives to-day. 
Wood-cutters . . . those who take the life of trees . . . 
you see, a race of haunted men. . . . 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 29 

He stopped abruptly, a singular catch in bis voice, 
Bittacy felt something even before the sentences were over. 
His wife, he knew, felt it still more strongly. For it was. 
in the middle of the heavy silence following upon these last 
remarks, that Mrs. Bittacy, rising with a violent abruptness, 
from her chair, drew the attention of the others to some- 
thing moving towards them across the lawn. It came 
silently. In outline it was large and curiously spread. It 
rose high, too, for the sky above the shrubberies, still pale- 
gold from the sunset, was dimmed by its passage. She- 
declared afterwards that it moved in " looping circles," but 
what she perhaps meant to convey was " spirals." 

She screamed faintly. " It's come at last ! And it's- 
you that brought it ! " 

She turned excitedly, half afraid, half angry, to Sanderson.. 
With a breathless sort of gasp she said it, politeness all 
forgotten. " I knew it ... if you went on. I knew it. 
Oh ! Oh ! " And she cried again, " Your talking has- 
brought it out ! " The terror that shook her voice was 
rather dreadful. 

But the confusion of her vehement words passed un- 
noticed in the first surprise they caused. For a moment 
nothing happened. 

" What is it you think you see, my dear ? " asked her 
husband, startled. Sanderson said nothing. All three 
leaned forward, the men still sitting, but Mrs. Bittacy had 
rushed hurriedly to the window, placing herself of a purpose,, 
as it seemed, between her husband and the lawn. She 
pointed. Her little hand made a silhouette against the 
sky, the yellow shawl hanging from the arm like a cloud. 

" Beyond the cedar — between it and the lilacs." The 
voice had lost its shrillness ; it was thin and hushed. 
" There . . . now you see it going round upon itself again 
— going back, thank God ! . . . going back to the Forest." 



30 STRANGE STORIES 

It sank to a whisper, shaking. She repeated, with a great 
dropping sigh of relief — " Thank God ! I thought ... at 
first ... it was coming here ... to us ! . . . David 
... to you ! " 

She stepped back from the window, her movements 
confused, feeling in the darkness for the support of a chair, 
and finding her husband's outstretched hand instead. 
" Hold me, dear, hold me, please . . . tight. Do not let 
me go." She was in what he called afterwards " a regular 
state." He drew her firmly down upon her chair again. 

" Smoke, Sophie, my dear," he said quickly, trying to 
make his voice calm and natural. " I see it, yes. It's 
smoke blowing over from the gardener's cottage. . . ." 

" But, David," — and there was new horror in her whisper 
now — " it made a noise. It makes it still. I hear it 
swishing." Some such word she used — swishing, sishing, 
rushing, or something of the kind. " David, I'm very 
frightened. It's something awful ! That man has called 
it out ... ! " 

" Hush, hush," whispered her husband. He stroked her 
trembling hand beside him. 

" It is in the wind," said Sanderson, speaking for the 
first time, very quietly. The expression on his face was 
not visible in the gloom, but his voice was soft and unafraid. 
At the sound of it, Mrs. Bittacy started violently again. 
Bittacy drew his chair a little forward to obstruct her view 
of him. He felt bewildered himself, a little, hardly knowing 
quite what to say or do. It was all so very curious and 
sudden. 

But Mrs. Bittacy was badly frightened. It seemed to 
her that what she saw came from the enveloping forest just 
beyond their little garden. It emerged in a sort of secret 
way, moving towards them as with a purpose, stealthily, 
difficultly. Then something stopped it. It could not 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 31 

advance beyond the cedar. The cedar — this impression 
remained with her afterwards too — prevented, kept it back. 
Like a rising sea the Forest had surged a moment in their 
direction through the covering darkness, and this visible 
movement was its first wave. Thus to her mind it seemed 
. . . like that mysterious turn of the tide that used to 
frighten and mystify her in childhood on the sands. The 
outward surge of some enormous Power was what she felt 
. . . something to which every instinct in her being rose 
in opposition because it threatened her and hers. In that 
moment she realised the Personality of the Forest . . . 
menacing. 

In the stumbling movement that she made away from 
the window and towards the bell she barely caught the 
sentence Sanderson — or was it her husband ? — murmured 
to himself : " It came because we talked of it ; our thinking 
made it aware of us and brought it out. But the cedar 
stops it. It cannot cross the lawn, you see. . . ." 

All three were standing now, and her husband's voice 
broke in with authority while his wife's fingers touched 
the bell. 

" My dear, I should not say anything to Thompson." 
The anxiety he felt was manifest in his voice, but his 
outward composure had returned. " The gardener can 
go » 

Then Sanderson cut him short. " Allow me," he said 
quickly. " I'll see if anything's wrong." And before 
either of them could answer or object, he was gone, leaping 
out by the open window. They saw his figure vanish with 
a run across the lawn into the darkness. 

A moment later the maid entered, in answer to the bell, 
and with her came the loud barking of the terrier from 
the hall. 

" The lamps," said her master shortly, and as she softly 



32 STRANGE STORIES 

closed the door behind her, they heard the wind pass with 
a mournful sound of singing round the outer walls. A 
rustle of foliage from the distance passed within it. 

" You see, the wind is rising. It was the wind ! " He 
put a comforting arm about her, distressed to feel that she 
was trembling. But he knew that he was trembling too, 
though with a kind of odd elation rather than alarm. 
" And it was smoke that you saw coming from Stride's 
cottage, or from the rubbish heaps he's been burning in 
the kitchen garden. The noise we heard was the branches 
rustling in the wind. Why should you be so nervous ? " 

A thin whispering voice answered him : 

" I was afraid for you, dear. Something frightened me 
for you. That man makes me feel so uneasy and uncom- 
fortable for his influence upon you. It's very foolish, I 
know. I think. . . . I'm tired ; I feel so overwrought 
and restless." The words poured out in a hurried jumble 
and she kept turning to the window while she spoke. 

" The strain of having a visitor," he said soothingly, 
" has taxed you. We're so unused to having people in 
the house. He goes to-morrow." He warmed her cold 
hands between his own, stroking them tenderly. More, 
for the life of him, he could not say or do. The joy of a 
strange, internal excitement made his heart beat faster. 
He knew not what it was. He knew only, perhaps, whence 
it came. 

She peered close into his face through the gloom, and 
said a curious thing. " I thought, David, for a moment 
. . . you seemed . . . different. My nerves are all on 
edge to-night." She made no further reference to her 
husband's visitor. 

A sound of footsteps from the lawn warned of Sanderson's 
return, as he answered quickly in a lowered tone — " There's 
no need to be afraid on my account, dear girl. There's 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 33 

nothing wrong with me, I assure you ; I never felt so well 
and happy in my life." 

Thompson came in with the lamps and brightness, and 
scarcely had she gone again when Sanderson in turn was 
seen climbing through the window. 

" There's nothing," he said lightly, as he closed it behind 
him. " Somebody's been burning leaves, and the smoke 
is drifting a little through the trees. The wind," he added, 
glancing at his host a moment significantly, but in so 
discreet a way that Mrs. Bittacy did not observe it, " the 
wind, too, has begun to roar ... in the Forest . . . 
further out." 

But Mrs. Bittacy noticed about him two things which 
increased her uneasiness. She noticed the shining of his 
eyes, because a similar light had suddenly come into her 
husband's ; and she noticed, too, the apparent depth of 
meaning he put into those simple words that " the wind 
had begun to roar in the Forest . . . further out." Her 
mind retained the disagreeable impression that he meant 
more than he said. In his tone lay quite another impli- 
cation. It was not actually " wind " he spoke of, and it 
would not remain " further out "... rather, it was 
coming in. Another impression she got too — still more 
unwelcome — was that her husband understood his hidden 
meaning. 



IV 

" T^V AVID, dear," she observed gently as soon as they 
_L/were alone upstairs, " I have a horrible uneasy 
feeling about that man. I cannot get rid of it." The 
tremor in her voice caught all his tenderness. 



34 » STRANGE STORIES 

He turned to look at her. " Of what kind, my dear ? 
You're so imaginative sometimes, aren't you ? " 

" I think," she hesitated, stammering a little, confused, 
still frightened, " I mean — isn't he a hypnotist, or full of 
those theofosical ideas, or something of the sort ? You 
know what I mean " 

He was too accustomed to her little confused alarms to 
explain them away seriously as a rule, or to correct her 
verbal inaccuracies, but to-night he felt she needed careful 
tender treatment. He soothed her as best he could. 

" But there's no harm in that, even if he is," he answered 
quietly. " Those are only new names for very old ideas, 
you know, dear." There was no trace of impatience in his 
voice. 

" That's what I mean," she replied, the texts he dreaded 
rising in an unuttered crowd behind the words. " He's one 
of those things that we are warned would come — one of 
those Latter-Day things." For her mind still bristled with 
the bogeys of Antichrist and Prophecy, and she had only 
escaped the Number of the Beast, as it were, by the skin 
of her teeth. The Pope drew most of her fire usually, 
because she could understand him ; the target was plain 
and she could shoot. But this tree-and-forest business 
was so vague and horrible. It terrified her. " He makes 
me think," she went on, " of Principalities and Powers in 
high places, and of things that walk in darkness. I did 
not like the way he spoke of trees getting alive in the night, 
and all that ; it made me think of wolves in sheep's 
clothing. And when I saw that awful thing in the sky 
above the lawn " 

But he interrupted her at once, for that was something 
he had decided it was best to leave unmentioned. Certainly 
it was better not discussed. 

" He only meant, I think, Sophie," he put in gravely, 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 35 

yet with a little smile, " that trees may have a measure of 
conscious life — rather a nice idea on the whole, surely — 
something like that bit we read in the Times the other 
night, you remember — and that a big forest may possess 
a sort of Collective Personality. Remember, he's an 
artist, and poetical." 

" It's dangerous," she said emphatically. " I feel it's 
playing with fire, unwise, unsafe •" 

" Yet all to the glory of God," he urged gently. " We 
must not shut our ears and eyes to knowledge — of any 
kind, must we ? " 

" With you, David, the wish is always farther than the 
thought," she rejoined. For, like the child who thought 
that " suffered under Pontius Pilate " was " suffered under 
a bunch of violets," she heard her proverbs phonetically 
and reproduced them thus. She hoped to convey her 
warning in the quotation. " And we must always try the 
spirits whether they be of God," she added tentatively. 

" Certainly, dear, we can always do that," he assented, 
getting into bed. 

But, after a little pause, during which she blew the light 
out, David Bittacy settling down to sleep with an excite- 
ment in his blood that was new and bewilderingly delightful, 
realised that perhaps he had not said quite enough to 
comfort her. She was lying awake by his side, still 
frightened. He put his head up in the darkness. 

" Sophie," he said softly, " you must remember, too, that 
in any case between us and — and all that sort of thing — 
there is a great gulf fixed, a gulf that cannot be crossed — 
er — while we are still in the body." 

And hearing no reply, he satisfied himself that she was 
already asleep and happy. But Mrs. Bittacy was not 
asleep. She heard the sentence, only she said nothing 
because she felt her thought was better unexpressed. She 



36 STRANGE STORIES 

was afraid to hear the words in the darkness. The Forest 
outside was listening and might hear them too — the Forest 
that was " roaring further out." 

And the thought was this : That gulf, of course, existed, 
but Sanderson had somehow bridged it. 

It was much later that night when she awoke out of 
troubled, uneasy dreams and heard a sound that twisted 
her very nerves with fear. It passed immediately with 
full waking, for, listen as she might, there was nothing 
audible but the inarticulate murmur of the night. It was 
in her dreams she heard it, and the dreams had vanished 
with it. But the sound was recognisable, for it was that 
rushing noise that had come across the lawn ; only this 
time closer. Just above her face while she slept had passed 
this murmur as of rustling branches in the very room, a 
sound of foliage whispering. " A going in the tops of the 
mulberry trees," ran through her mind. She had dreamed 
that she lay beneath a spreading tree somewhere, a tree 
that whispered with ten thousand soft lips of green ; and 
the dream continued for a moment even after waking. 

She sat up in bed and stared about her. The window 
was open at the top ; she saw the stars ; the door, she 
remembered, was locked as usual ; the room, of course, 
was empty. The deep hush of the summer night lay 
over all, broken only by another sound that now issued 
from the shadows close beside the bed, a human sound, 
yet unnatural, a sound that seized the fear with which 
she had waked and instantly increased it. And, although 
it was one she recognised as familiar, at first she could not 
name it. Some seconds certainly passed — and, they were 
very long ones — before she understood that it was her 
husband talking in his sleep. 

The direction of the voice confused and puzzled her, 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 37 

moreover, for it was Hot, as she first supposed, beside her. 
There was distance in it. The next minute, by the light 
of the sinking candle flame, she saw his white figure standing 
out in the middle of the room, half-way towards the window. 
The candle-light slowly grew. She saw him move then 
nearer to the window, with arms outstretched. His speech 
was low and mumbled, the words running together too 
much to be distinguishable. 

And she shivered. To her, sleep-talking was uncanny 
to the point of horror ; it was like the talking of the dead, 
mere parody of a living voice, unnatural. 

" David ! " she whispered, dreading the sound of her 
own voice, and half afraid to interrupt him and see his 
face. She could not bear the sight of the wide-opened 
eyes. " David, you're walking in your sleep. Do — come 
back to bed, dear, please ! " 

Her whisper seemed so dreadfully loud in the still dark- 
ness. At the sound of her voice he paused, then turned 
slowly round to face her. His widely-opened eyes stared 
into her own without recognition ; they looked through 
her into something beyond ; it was as though he knew 
the direction of the sound, yet could not see her. They 
were shining, she noticed, as the eyes of Sanderson had 
shone several hours ago ; and his face was flushed, dis- 
traught. Anxiety was written upon every feature. And, 
instantly, recognising that the fever was upon him, she 
forgot her terror temporarily in practical considerations. 
He came back to bed without waking. She closed his 
eyelids. Presently he composed himself quietly to sleep, 
or rather to deeper sleep. She contrived to make him 
swallow something from the tumbler beside the bed. 

Then she rose very quietly to close the window, feeling 
the night air blow in too fresh and keen. She put the 
candle where it could not reach him. The sight of the 



38 STRANGE STORIES 

big Baxter Bible beside it comforted her a little, but all 
through her under-being ran the warnings of a curious 
alarm. And it was while in the act of fastening the catch 
with one hand and pulling the string of the blind with the 
other, that her husband sat up again in bed and spoke in 
words this time that were distinctly audible. The eyes 
had opened wide again. He pointed. She stood stock 
still and listened, her shadow distorted on the blind. He 
did not come out towards her as at first she feared. 

The whispering voice was very clear, horrible, too, 
beyond all she had ever known. 

" They are roaring in the Forest further out . . . and 
I . . . must go and see." He stared beyond her as he 
said it, to the woods. " They are needing me. They sent 
for me. . . ." Then his eyes wandering back again to 
things within the room, he lay down, his purpose suddenly 
changed. And that change was horrible as well, more 
horrible, perhaps, because of its revelation of another 
detailed world he moved in far away from her. 

The singular phrase chilled her blood ; for a moment she 
was utterly terrified. That tone of the somnambulist, 
differing so slightly yet so distressingly from normal, 
waking speech, seemed to her somehow wicked. Evil and 
danger lay waiting thick behind it. She leaned against 
the window-sill, shaking in every limb. She had an awful 
feeling for a moment that something was coming in to 
fetch him. 

" Not yet, then," she heard in a much lower voice from 
the bed, " but later. It will be better so. . . . I shall go 
later. . '. ." 

The words expressed some fringe of these alarms that 
had haunted her so long, and that the arrival and presence 
of Sanderson seemed to have brought to the very edge of 
a climax she could not even dare to think about. They 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 39 

gave it form; they brought it closer; they sent her 
thoughts to her Deity in a wild, deep prayer for help and 
guidance. For here was a direct, unconscious betrayal of 
a world of inner purposes and claims her husband recognised 
while he kept them almost wholly to himself. 

By the time she reached his side and knew the comfort 
of his touch, the eyes had closed again, this time of their 
own accord, and the head lay calmly back upon the pillows. 
She gently straightened the bed clothes. She watched him 
for some minutes, shading the candle carefully with one 
hand. There was a smile of strangest peace upon the face. 

Then, blowing out the candle, she knelt down and prayed 
before getting back into bed. But no sleep came to her. 
She lay awake all night thinking, wondering, praying, until 
at length with the chorus of the birds and the glimmer of 
the dawn upon the green blind, she fell into a slumber of 
complete exhaustion. 

But while she slept the wind continued roaring in the 
Forest further out. The sound came closer — sometimes 
very close indeed. 



WITH the departure of Sanderson the significance of 
the curious incidents waned, because the moods that 
had produced them passed away. Mrs. Bittacy soon after- 
wards came to regard them as some growth of disproportion 
that had been very largely, perhaps, in her own mind. It 
did not strike her that this change was sudden, for it came 
about quite naturally. For one thing her husband never 
spoke of the matter, and for another she remembered how 
many things in life that had seemed inexplicable and 



40 STRANGE STORIES 

singular at the time turned out later to have been quite 
commonplace. 

Most of it, certainly, she put down to the presence of the 
artist and to his wild, suggestive talk. With his welcome 
removal, the world turned ordinary again and safe. The 
fever, though it lasted as usual a short time only, had not 
allowed of her husband's getting up to say good-bye, and 
she had conveyed his regrets and adieux. In the morning 
Mr. Sanderson had seemed ordinary enough. In his town 
hat and gloves, as she saw him go, he seemed tame and 
unalarming. 

" After all," she thought as she watched the pony-cart 
bear him off, "he's only an artist!" What she had 
thought he might be otherwise her slim imagination did 
not venture to disclose. Her change of feeling was whole- 
some and refreshing. She felt a little ashamed of her 
behaviour. She gave him a smile — genuine because the 
relief she felt was genuine — as he bent over her hand and 
kissed it, but she did not suggest a second visit, and her 
husband, she noted with satisfaction and relief had said 
nothing either. 

The little household fell again into the normal and sleepy 
routine to which it was accustomed. The name of Arthur 
Sanderson was rarely if ever mentioned. Nor, for her 
part, did she mention to her husband the incident of his 
walking in his sleep and the wild words he used. But to 
forget it was equally impossible. Thus it lay buried deep 
within her like a centre of some unknown disease of which 
it was a mysterious symptom, waiting to spread at the 
first favourable opportunity. She prayed against it every 
night and morning ; prayed that she might forget it — that 
God would keep her husband safe from harm. 

For in spite of much surface foolishness that many might 
have read as weakness, Mrs. Bittacy had balance, sanity, 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 41 

and a fine deep faith. She was greater than she knew. 
Her love for her husband and her God were somehow one, 
an achievement only possible to a single-hearted nobility 
of soul. 

There followed a summer of great violence and beauty ; 
of beauty, because the refreshing rains at night prolonged 
the glory of the spring and spread it all across July, keeping 
the foliage young and sweet ; of violence, because the 
winds that tore about the south of England brushed the 
whole country into dancing movement. They swept the 
woods magnificently, and kept them roaring with a perpetual 
grand voice. Their deepest notes seemed never to leave 
the sky. They sang and shouted, and torn leaves raced 
and fluttered through the air long before their usually 
appointed time. Many a tree, after days of this roaring 
and dancing, fell exhausted to the ground. The cedar on 
the lawn gave up two limbs that fell upon successive days, 
at the same hour too — just before dusk. The wind often 
makes its most boisterous effort at that time, before it 
drops with the sun, and these two huge branches lay in 
dark ruin covering half the lawn. They spread across it 
and towards the house. They left an ugly gaping space 
upon the tree, so that the Lebanon looked unfinished, half 
destroyed, a monster shorn of its old-time comeliness and 
splendour. Far more of the Forest was now visible than 
before ; it peered through the breach of the broken de- 
fences. They could see from the windows of the house 
now — especially from the drawing-room and bedroom 
windows — straight out into the glades and depths beyond. 

Mrs. Bittacy's niece and nephew, who were staying on 
a visit at the time, enjoyed themselves immensely helping 
the gardeners carry off the fragments. It took two days 
to do this, for Mr. Bittacy insisted on the branches being 



42 STRANGE STORIES 

moved entire. He would not allow them to be chopped ; 
also, he would not consent to their use as firewood. Under 
his superintendence the unwieldy masses were dragged to 
the edge of the garden and arranged upon the frontier line 
between the Forest and the lawn. The children were 
delighted with the scheme. They entered into it with 
enthusiasm. At all costs this defence against the inroads 
of the Forest must be made secure. They caught their 
uncle's earnestness, felt even something of a hidden motive 
that he had, and the visit, usually rather dreaded, became 
the visit of their lives instead. It was Aunt Sophia this 
time who seemed discouraging and dull. 

" She's got so old and funny," opined Stephen. 

But Alice, who felt in the silent displeasure of her aunt 
some secret thing that half alarmed her, said : 

" I think she's afraid of the woods. She never comes 
into them with us, you see." 

" All the more reason then for making this wall impreg — 
all fat and thick and solid," be concluded, unable to manage 
the longer word. " Then nothing — simply nothing — can 
get through. Can't it, Uncle David ? " 

And Mr. Bittacy, jacket discarded and working in his 
speckled waistcoat, went puffing to their aid, arranging the 
massive limb of the cedar like a hedge. 

" Come on," he said, " whatever happens, you know, we 
must finish before it's dark. Already the wind is roaring 
in the Forest further out." And Alice caught the phrase 
and instantly echoed it. " Stevie," she cried below her 
breath, " look sharp, you lazy lump. Didn't you hear what 
Uncle David said ? It'll come in and catch us before we've 
done ! " 

They worked like Trojans, and, sitting beneath the 
wistaria tree that climbed the southern wall of the cottage, 
Mrs. Bittacy with her knitting watched them, calling from 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 43 

time to time insignificant messages of counsel and advice. 
The messages passed, of course, unheeded. Mostly, indeed, 
they were unheard, for the workers were too absorbed. 
She warned her husband not to get too hot, Alice not to 
tear her dress, Stephen not to strain his back with pulling. 
Her mind hovered between the homoeopathic medicine- 
chest upstairs and her anxiety to see the business finished. 

For this breaking up of the cedar had stirred again her 
slumbering alarms. It revived memories of the visit of 
Mr. Sanderson that had been sinking into oblivion ; she 
recalled his queer and odious way of talking, and many 
things she hoped forgotten drew their heads up from that 
subconscious region to which all forgetting is impossible. 
They looked at her and nodded. They were full of life ; 
they had no intention of being pushed aside and buried 
permanently. " Now look ! " they whispered, " didn't we 
tell you so ? " They had been merely waiting the right 
moment to assert their presence. And all her former vague 
distress crept over her. Anxiety, uneasiness returned. 
That dreadful sinking of the heart came too. 

This incident of the cedar's breaking up was actually so 
unimportant, and yet her husband's attitude towards it 
made it so significant. There was nothing that he said in 
particular, or did, or left undone that frightened her, but 
his general air of earnestness seemed so unwarranted. She 
felt that he deemed the thing important. He was so 
exercised about it. This evidence of sudden concern and 
interest, buried all the summer from her sight and know- 
ledge, she realised now had been buried purposely ; he 
had kept it intentionally concealed. Deeply submerged 
in him there ran this tide of other thoughts, desires, hopes. 
What were they ? Whither did they lead ? The accident 
to the tree betrayed it most unpleasantly ; and, doubtless, 
more than he was aware. 



44 STRANGE STORIES 

She watched his grave and serious face as he worked 
there with the children, and as she watched she felt afraid. 
It vexed her that the children worked so eagerly. They 
unconsciously supported him. The thing she feared she 
would not even name. But it was waiting. 

Moreover, as far as her puzzled mind could deal with a 
dread so vague and incoherent, the collapse of the cedar 
somehow brought it nearer. The fact that, all so ill- 
explained and formless, the thing yet lay in her conscious- 
ness, out of reach but moving and alive, filled her with a 
kind of puzzled, dreadful wonder. Its presence was so very 
real, its power so gripping, its partial concealment so 
abominable. Then, out of the dim confusion, she grasped 
one thought and saw it stand quite clear before her eyes. 
She found difficulty in clothing it in words, but its meaning 
perhaps was this : That cedar stood in their life for some- 
thing friendly ; its downfall meant disaster ; a sense of 
some protective influence about the cottage, and about 
her husband in particular, was thereby weakened. 

" Why do you fear the big winds so f " he had asked 
her several days before, after a particularly boisterous day ; 
and the answer she gave surprised her while she gave it. 
One of those heads poked up unconsciously, and let slip 
the truth : 

" Because, David, I feel they — bring the Forest with 
them," she faltered. " They blow something from the 
trees — into the mind — into the house." 

He looked at her keenly for a moment. 

" That must be why I love them then," he answered. 
" They blow the souls of the trees about the sky like clouds." 

The conversation dropped. She had never heard him 
talk in quite that way before. 

And another time, when he had coaxed her to go with 
him down one of the nearer glades, she asked why he took 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 45 

the small hand-axe with him, and what he wanted it for. 

" To cut the ivy that clings to the trunks and takes 
their life away," he said. 

" But can't the verdurers do that ? " she asked. " That's 
what they're paid for, isn't it ? " 

Whereupon he explained that ivy was a parasite the 
trees knew not how to fight alone, and that the verdurers 
were careless and did not do it thoroughly. They gave a 
chop here and there, leaving the tree to do the rest for 
itself if it could. 

" Besides, I like to do it for them. I love to help them 
and protect," he added, the foliage rustling all about his 
quiet words as they went. 

And these stray remarks, as his attitude towards the 
broken cedar, betrayed this curious, subtle change that 
was going forward in his personality. Slowly and surely 
all the summer it had increased. 

It was growing — the thought startled her horribly — just 
as a tree grows, the outer evidence from day to day so 
slight as to be unnoticeable, yet the rising tide so deep and 
irresistible. The alteration spread all through and over 
him, was in both mind and actions, sometimes almost in 
his face as well. Occasionally, thus, it stood up straight 
outside himself and frightened her. His life was somehow 
becoming linked so intimately with trees, and with all that 
trees signified. His interests became more and more their 
interests, his activity combined with theirs, his thoughts 
and feelings theirs, his purpose, hope, desire, his fate 

His fate ! The darkness of some vague, enormous terror 
dropped its shadow on her when she thought of it. Some 
instinct in her heart she dreaded infinitely more than death 
— for death meant sweet translation for his soul — came 
gradually to associate the thought of him with the thought 
of trees, in particular with these Forest trees. Sometimes, 



46 STRANGE STORIES 

before she could face the thing, argue it away, or pray it 
into silence, she found the thought of him running swiftly 
through her mind like a thought of the Forest itself, the 
two most intimately linked and joined together, each a 
part and complement of the other, one being. 

The idea was too dim for her to see it face to face. Its 
mere possibility dissolved the instant she focussed it to get 
the truth behind it. It was too utterly elusive, mad, 
protsean. Under the attack of even a minute's concen- 
tration the very meaning of it vanished, melted away. 
The idea lay really behind any words that she could ever 
find, beyond the touch of definite thought. Her mind 
was unable to grapple with it. But, while it vanished, the 
trail of its approach and disappearance flickered a moment 
before her shaking vision. The horror certainly remained. 

Reduced to the simple human statement that her tem- 
perament sought instinctively it stood perhaps at this : 
Her husband loved her, and he loved the trees as well ; 
but the trees came first, claimed parts of him she did not 
know. She loved her God and him. He loved the trees 
and her. 

Thus, in guise of some faint, distressing compromise, the 
matter shaped itself for her perplexed mind in the terms 
of conflict. A silent, hidden battle raged, but as yet raged 
far away. The breaking of the cedar was a visible outward 
fragment of a distant and mysterious encounter that was 
coming daily closer to them both. The wind, instead of 
roaring in the Forest further out, now came nearer, booming 
in fitful gusts about its edge and frontiers. 

Meanwhile the summer dimmed. The autumn winds 
went sighing through the woods ; leaves turned to golden 
red, and the evenings were drawing in with cosy shadows 
before the first sign of anything seriously untoward made 
its appearance. It came then with a fiat, decided kind of 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 47 

violence that indicated mature preparation beforehand. 
It was not impulsive nor ill-considered. In a fashion it 
seemed expected, and indeed inevitable. For within a 
fortnight of their annual change to the little village of 
Seillans above St. Raphael — a change so regular for the 
past ten years that it was not even discussed between them 
— David Bittacy abruptly refused to go. 

Thompson had laid the tea-table, prepared the spirit 
lamp beneath the urn, pulled down the blinds in that swift 
and silent way she had, and left the room. The lamps 
were still unlit. The fire-light shone on the chintz arm- 
chairs, and Boxer lay asleep on the black horse-hair rug. 
Upon the walls the gilt picture frames gleamed faintly, 
the pictures themselves indistinguishable. Mrs. Bittacy 
had warmed the teapot and was in the act of pouring the 
water in to heat the cups when her husband, looking up 
from his chair across the hearth, made the abrupt announce- 
ment : 

" My dear," he said, as though following a train of 
thought of which she only heard this final phrase, " it's 
really quite impossible for me to go." 

And so abrupt, inconsequent, it sounded that she at first 
misunderstood. She thought he meant go out into the 
garden or the woods. But her heart leaped all the same. 
The tone of his voice was ominous. 

" Of course not," she answered, " it would be most 

unwise. Why should you ? " She referred to the mist 

that always spread on autumn nights upon the lawn ; but 
before she finished the sentence she knew that be referred 
to something else. And her heart then gave its second 
horrible leap. 

" David ! You mean abroad ? " she gasped. 

" I mean abroad, dear, yes." 

It reminded her of the tone he used when saying good- 



48 STRANGE STORIES 

bye years ago before one of those jungle expeditions she 
dreaded. His voice then was so serious, so final. It was 
serious and final now. For several moments she could 
think of nothing to say. She busied herself with the teapot. 
She had filled one cup with hot water till it overflowed, 
and she emptied it slowly into the slop-basin, trying with 
all her might not to let him see the trembling of her hand. 
The firelight and the dimness of the room both helped 
her. But in any case he would hardly have noticed it. 
His thoughts were far away. . . . 



VI 

MRS. BITTACY had never liked their present home. 
She preferred a flat, more open country that left 
approaches clear. She liked to see things coming. This 
cottage on the very edge of the old hunting grounds of 
William the Conqueror had never satisfied her ideal of a 
safe and pleasant place to settle down in. The sea-coast, 
with treeless downs behind and a clear horizon in front, 
as at Eastbourne, say, was her ideal of a proper home. 

It was curious, this instinctive aversion she felt to being 
shut in — by trees especially ; a kind of claustrophobia 
almost ; probably due, as has been said, to the days in 
India when the trees took her husband off and surrounded 
him with dangers. In those weeks of solitude the feeling 
had matured. She had fought it in her fashion, but never 
conquered it. Apparently routed, it had a way of creeping 
back in other forms. In this particular case, yielding to 
his strong desire, she thought the battle won, but the terror 
of the trees came back before the first month had passed. 
They laughed in her face. 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 49 

She never lost knowledge of the fact that the leagues of 
forest lay about their cottage like a mighty wall, a crowding, 
watching, listening presence that shut them in from freedom 
and escape. Far from morbid naturally, she did her best 
to deny the thought, and so simple and unartificial was her 
type of mind that for weeks together she would wholly 
lose it. Then, suddenly it would return upon her with a 
rush of bleak reality. It was not only in her mind ; it 
existed apart from any mere mood ; a separate fear that 
walked alone ; it came and went, yet when it went — went 
only to watch her from another point of view. It was in 
abeyance — hidden round the corner. 

The Forest never let her go completely. It was ever 
ready to encroach. All the branches, she sometimes 
fancied, stretched one way — towards their tiny cottage and 
garden, as though it sought to draw them in and merge 
them in itself. Its great, deep-breathing soul resented the 
mockery, the insolence, the irritation of the prim garden at 
its very gates. It would absorb and smother them if it 
could. And every wind that blew its thundering message 
over the huge sounding-board of the million, shaking trees 
conveyed the purpose that it had. They had angered its 
great soul. At its heart was this deep, incessant roaring. 

All this she never framed in words ; the subtleties of 
language lay far beyond her reach. But instinctively she 
felt it ; and more besides. It troubled her profoundly. 
Chiefly, moreover, for her husband. Merely for herself, 
the nightmare might have left her cold. It was David's 
peculiar interest in the trees that gave the special 
invitation. 

Jealousy, then, in its most subtle aspect came to 
strengthen this aversion and dislike, for it came in a form 
that no reasonable wife could possibly object to. Her 
husband's passion, she reflected, was natural and inborn. 



So STRANGE STORIES 

It had decided his vocation, fed his ambition, nourished his 
dreams, desires, hopes. All his best years of active life 
had been spent in the care and guardianship of trees. He 
knew them, understood their secret life and nature, 
" managed " them intuitively as other men " managed " 
dogs and horses. He could not live for long away from 
them without a strange, acute nostalgia that stole his peace 
of mind and consequently his strength of body. A forest 
made him h appy and at peace ; it nursed and fed and soothed 
his deepest moods. Trees influenced the sources of his 
life, lowered or raised the very heart-beat in him. Cut off 
from them he languished as a lover of the sea can droop 
inland, or a mountaineer may pine in the flat monotony 
of the plains. 

This she could understand, in a fashion at least, and 
make allowances for. She had yielded gently, even 
sweetly, to his choice of their English home ; for in the 
little island there is nothing that suggests the woods of 
wilder countries so nearly as the New Forest. It has the 
genuine air and mystery, the depth and splendour, the 
loneliness, and here and there the strong, untamable 
quality of old-time forests as Bittacy of the Department 
knew them. 

In a single detail only had he yielded to her wishes. He 
consented to a cottage on the edge, instead of in the heart 
of it. And for a dozen years now they had dwelt in peace 
and happiness at the lips of this great spreading thing that 
covered so many leagues with its tangle of swamps and 
moors and splendid ancient trees. 

Only with the last two years or so — with his own in- 
creasing age, and physical decline perhaps — had come this 
marked growth of passionate interest in the welfare of the 
Forest. She had watched it grow, at first had laughed at 
it, then talked sympathetically so far as sincerity permitted, 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 51 

then had argued mildly, and finally come to realise that its 
treatment lay altogether beyond her powers, and so had 
come to fear it with all her heart. 

The six weeks they annually spent away from their 
English home, each regarded very differently of course. 
For her husband it meant a painful exile that did his health 
no good ; he yearned for his trees— the sight and sound and 
smell of them ; but for herself it meant release from a 
haunting dread — escape. To renounce those six weeks 
by the sea on the sunny, shining coast of France, was almost 
more than this little woman, even with her unselfishness, 
could face. 

After the first shock of the announcement, she reflected 
as deeply as her nature permitted, prayed, wept in secret, 
and made up her mind. Duty, she felt clearly, pointed to 
renouncement. The discipline would certainly be severe — 
she did not dream at the moment how severe !— but this 
fine, consistent little Christian saw it plain ; she accepted 
it, too, without any sighing of the martyr, though the 
courage she showed was of the martyr order. Her husband 
should never know the cost. In all but this one passion 
his unselfishness was ever as great as her own. The love 
she had borne him all these years, like the love she bore 
her anthropomorphic deity, was deep and real. She loved 
to suffer for them both. Besides, the way her husband 
had put it to her was singular. It did not take the form 
of a mere selfish predilection. Something higher than two 
wills in conflict seeking compromise was in it from the 
beginning. 

" I feel, Sophia, it would be really more than I could 
manage," he said slowly, gazing into the fire over the tops 
of his stretched-out muddy boots. "My duty and my 
happiness lie here with the Forest and with you. My life 



52 STRANGE STORIES 

is deeply rooted in this place. Something I can't define 
connects my inner being with these trees, and separation 
would make me ill — might even kill me. My hold on life 
would weaken ; here is my source of supply. I cannot 
explain it better than that." He looked up steadily into 
her face across the table so that she saw the gravity of his 
expression and the shining of his steady eyes. 

" David, you feel it as strongly as that ! " she said, 
forgetting the tea things altogether. 

" Yes," he replied, " I do. And it's not of the body 
only ; I feel it in my soul." 

The reality of what he hinted at crept into that shadow- 
covered room like an actual Presence and stood beside 
them. It came not by the windows or the door, but it 
filled the entire space between the walls and ceiling. It 
took the heat from the fire before her face. She felt 
suddenly cold, confused a little, frightened. She almost 
felt the rush of foliage in the wind. It stood between 
them. 

" There are things — some things," she faltered, " we are 
not intended to know, I think." The words expressed her 
general attitude to life, not alone to this particular 
incident. 

And after a pause of several minutes, disregarding the 
criticism as though he had not heard it — " I cannot explain 
it better than that, you see," his grave voice answered. 
" There is this deep, tremendous link — some secret power 
they emanate that keeps me well and happy and — alive. 
If you cannot understand, I feel at least you may be 
able to — forgive." His tone grew tender, gentle, soft. 
" My selfishness, I know, must seem quite unforgivable. 
I cannot help it somehow ; these trees, this ancient Forest, 
both seem knitted into all that makes me live, and if I 
go » 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 53 

There was a little sound of collapse in his voice. He 
stopped abruptly, and sank back in his chair. And, at 
that, a distinct lump came up into her throat which she 
had great difficulty in managing while she went over and 
put her arms about him. 

" My dear," she murmured, " God will direct. We will 
accept His guidance. He has always shown the way 
before." 

"My selfishness afHicts me " he began, but she would 

not let him finish. 

"David, He will direct. Nothing shall harm you. 
You've never once been selfish, and I cannot bear to hear 
you say such things. The way will open that is best for 
y OU — f or both of us." She kissed him ; she would not 
let him speak ; her heart was in her throat, and she felt 
for him far more than for herself. 

And then he had suggested that she should go alone 
perhaps for a shorter time, and stay in her brother's villa 
with the children, Alice and Stephen. It was always open 
to her as she well knew. 

" You need the change," he said, when the lamps had 
been lit and the servant had gone out again ; " you need 
it as much as I dread it. I could manage somehow till 
you returned, and should feel happier that way if you 
went. I cannot leave this Forest that I love so well. I 
even feel, Sophie dear " — he sat up straight and faced her 
as he half whispered it — " that I can never leave it again. 
My life and happiness lie here together." 

And even while scorning the idea that she could leave 
him alone with the Influence of the Forest all about him 
to have its unimpeded way, she felt the pangs of that 
subtle jealousy bite keen and close. He loved the Forest 
better than herself, for he placed it first. Behind the words, 
moreover, hid the unuttered thought that made her so 



54 STRANGE STORIES 

uneasy. The terror Sanderson had brought revived and 
shook its wings before her very eyes. For the whole con- 
versation, of which this was a fragment, conveyed the 
unutterable implication that while he could not spare the 
trees, they equally could not spare him. The vividness 
with which he managed to conceal and yet betray the fact 
brought a profound distress that crossed the border between 
presentiment and warning into positive alarm. 

He clearly felt that the trees would miss him — the trees 
he tended, guarded, watched over, loved. 

" David, I shall stay here with you. I think you need 
me really — don't you ? " Eagerly, with a touch of heart- 
felt passion, the words poured out. 

" Now more than ever, dear. God bless you for your 
sweet unselfishness. And your sacrifice," he added, " is 
all the greater because you cannot understand the thing 
that makes it necessary for me to stay." 

" Perhaps in the spring instead " she said, with a 

tremor in the voice. 

" In the spring — perhaps," he answered gently, almost 
beneath his breath. " For they will not need me then. 
All the world can love them in the spring. It's in the 
winter that they're lonely and neglected. I wish to stay 
with them particularly then. I even feel I ought to — and 
I must." 

And in this way, without further speech, the decision 
was made. Mrs. Bittacy, at least, asked no more questions. 
Yet she could not bring herself to show more sympathy 
than was necessary. She felt, for one thing, that if she 
did, it might lead him to speak freely, and to tell her things 
she could not possibly bear to know. And she dared not 
take the risk of that. 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 55 

VII 

THIS was at the end of summer, but the autumn 
followed close. The conversation really marked the 
threshold between the two seasons, and marked at the same 
time the line between her husband's negative and aggressive 
state. She almost felt she had done wrong to yield ; he 
grew so bold, concealment all discarded. He went, that 
is, quite openly to the woods, forgetting all his duties, all 
his former occupations. He even sought to coax her to 
go with him. The hidden thing blazed out without dis- 
guise. And, while she trembled at his energy, she admired 
the virile passion he displayed. Her jealousy had long ago 
retired before her fear, accepting the second place. Her 
one desire now was to protect. The wife turned wholly 
mother. 

He said so little, but— he hated to come in. From 
morning to night he wandered in the Forest ; often he went 
out after dinner ; his mind was charged with trees — their 
foliage, growth, development ; their wonder, beauty, 
strength ; their loneliness in isolation, their power in a 
herded mass. He knew the effect of every wind upon 
them ; the danger from the boisterous north, the glory from 
the west, the eastern dryness, and the soft, moist tender- 
ness that a south wind left upon their thinning boughs. 
He spoke all day of their sensations : how they drank 
the fading sunshine, dreamed in the moonlight, thrilled to 
the kiss of stars. The dew could bring them half the passion 
of the night, but frost sent them plunging beneath the 
ground to dwell with hopes of a later coming softness in 
their roots. They nursed the life they carried — insects, 
larva;, chrysalis — and when the skies above them melted, 
he spoke of them standing " motionless in an ecstasy of 



S6 STRANGE STORIES 

rain," or in the noon of sunshine " self-poised upon their 
prodigy of shade." 

And once in the middle of the night she woke at the 
sound of his voice, and heard him — wide awake, not talking 
in his sleep — but talking towards the window where the 
shadow of the cedar fell at noon : 

art thou sighing for Lebanon 

In the long breeze that streams to thy delicious East ? 

Sighing for Lebanon, 

Dark cedar ; 

and when, half charmed, half terrified, she turned and 
called to him by name, he merely said : 

" My dear, I felt the loneliness — suddenly realised it — 
the alien desolation of that tree, . set here upon our little 
lawn in England when all her Eastern brothers call to her 
in sleep." And the answer seemed so queer, so " un- 
evangelical," that she waited in silence till he slept again. 
The poetry passed her by. It seemed unnecessary and out 
of place. It made her ache with suspicion, fear, jealousy. 

The fear, however, seemed somehow all lapped up and 
banished soon afterwards by her unwilling admiration of 
the rushing splendour of her husband's state. Her anxiety, 
at any rate, shifted from the religious to the medical. She 
thought he might be losing his steadiness of mind a little. 
How often in her prayers she offered thanks for the guidance 
that had made her stay with him to help and watch is 
impossible to say. It certainly was twice a day. 

She even went so far once, when Mr. Mortimer, the vicar, 
called, and brought with him a more or less distinguished 
doctor — as to tell the professional man privately some 
symptoms of her husband's queerness. And his answer 
that there was " nothing he could prescribe for " added 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 57 

not a little to her sense of unholy bewilderment. No doubt 
Sir James had never been " consulted " under such un- 
orthodox conditions before. His sense of what was 
becoming naturally overrode his acquired instincts as a 
skilled instrument that might help the race. 

" No fever, you think ? " she asked insistently with 
hurry, determined to get something from him. 

" Nothing that / can deal with, as I told you, Madam," 
replied the offended allopathic Knight. 

Evidently he did not care about being invited to examine 
patients in this surreptitious way before a teapot on the 
lawn, chance of a fee most problematical. He liked to see 
a tongue and feel a thumping pulse ; to know the pedigree 
and bank account of his questioner as well. It was most 
unusual, in abominable taste besides. Of course it was. 
But the drowning woman seized the only straw she could. 

For now the aggressive attitude of her husband overcame 
her to the point where she found it difficult even to question 
him. Yet in the house he was so kind and gentle, doing 
all he could to make her sacrifice as easy as possible. 

" David, you really are unwise to go out now. The 
night is damp and very chilly. The ground is soaked in 
dew. You'll catch your death of cold." 

His face lightened. " Won't you come with me, dear — 
just for once ? I'm only going to the corner of the hollies 
to see the beech that stands so lonely by itself." 

She had been out with him in the short dark afternoon, 
and they had passed that evil group of hollies where the 
gipsies camped. Nothing else would grow there, but the 
hollies throve upon the stony soil. 

" David, the beech is all right and safe." She had 
learned his phraseology a little, made clever out of due 
season by her love. " There's no wind to-night." 

" But it's rising," he answered, " rising in the east. I 

C 



58 STRANGE STORIES 

heard it in the bare and hungry larches. They need the 
sun and dew, and always cry out when the wind's upon 
them from the east." 

She sent a short unspoken prayer most swiftly to her 
deity as she heard him say it. For every time now, when 
he spoke in this familiar, intimate way of the life of the 
trees, she felt a sheet of cold fasten tight against her very 
skin and flesh. She shivered. How could he possibly know 
such things ? 

Yet, in all else, and in the relations of his daily life, he 
was sane and reasonable, loving, kind and tender. It was 
only on the subject of the trees he seemed unhinged and 
queer. Most curiously it seemed that, since the collapse 
of the cedar they both loved, though in different fashion, 
his departure from the normal had increased. Why else 
did he watch them as a man might watch a sickly child ? 
Why did he linger especially in the dusk to catch their 
" mood of night " as he called it ? Why think so carefully 
lupon them when the frost was threatening or the wind 
appeared to rise ? 

As she put it so frequently now to herself — How could 
he possibly know such things ? 

He went. As she closed the front door after him she 
heard the distant roaring in the Forest. . . . 

And then it suddenly struck her : How could she know 
them too ? 

It dropped upon her like a blow that she felt at once 
aU over, upon body, heart and mind. The discovery 
rushed out from its ambush to overwhelm. The truth of 
it, making all arguing futile, numbed her faculties. But 
though at first it deadened her, she soon revived, and her 
being rose into aggressive opposition. A wild yet calculated 
.courage like that which animates the leaders of splendid 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 59 

forlorn hopes flamed in her little person — flamed grandly, 
and invincible. While knowing herself insignificant and 
weak, she knew at the same time that power at her back 
which moves the worlds. The faith that filled her was the 
weapon in her hands, and the right by which she claimed 
it ; but the spirit of utter, selfless sacrifice that charac- 
terised her life was the means by which she mastered its 
immediate use. For a kind of white and faultless intuition 
guided her to the attack. Behind her stood her Bible 
and her God. 

How so magnificent a divination came to her at all may 
well be a matter for astonishment, though some clue of 
explanation lies, perhaps, in the very simpleness of her 
nature. At any rate, she saw quite clearly certain things ; 
saw them in moments only — after prayer, in the still silence 
of the night, or when left alone those long hours in the 
house with her knitting and her thoughts — and the 
guidance which then flashed into her remained, even after 
the manner of its coming was forgotten. 

They came to her, these things she saw, formless, word- 
less ; she could not put them into any kind of language ; 
but by the very fact of being uncaught in sentences they 
retained their original clear vigour. 

Hours of patient waiting brought the first, and the 
others followed easily afterwards, by degrees, on subsequent 
days, a little and a little. Her husband had been gone 
since early morning, and had taken his luncheon with him. 
She was sitting by the tea things, the cups and teapot 
warmed, the muffins in the fender keeping hot, all ready 
for his return, when she realised quite abruptly that this 
thing which took him off, which kept him out so many 
hours day after day, this thing that was against her own 
little will and instincts — was enormous as the sea. It was 
no mere prettiness of single Trees, but something massed 



60 STRANGE STORIES 

and mountainous. About her rose the wall of its huge 
opposition to the sky, its scale gigantic, its power utterly 
prodigious. What she knew of it hitherto as green and 
delicate forms waving and rustling in the winds was but, 
as it were, the spray of foam that broke into sight upon the 
nearer edge of viewless depths far, far away. The trees, 
indeed, were sentinels set visibly about the limits of a 
camp that itself remained invisible. The awful hum and 
murmur of the main body in the distance passed into that 
still room about her with the firelight and hissing kettle. 
Out yonder — in the Forest further out — the thing that was 
ever roaring at the centre was dreadfully increasing. 

The sense of definite battle, too — battle between herself 
and the Forest for his soul — came with it. Its presentment 
was as clear as though Thompson had come into the room 
and quietly told her that the cottage was surrounded. 
" Please, ma'am, there are trees come up about the house," 
she might have suddenly announced. And equally might 
have heard her own answer : " It's all right, Thompson. 
The main body is still far away." 

Immediately upon its heels, then, came another truth, 
with a close reality that shocked her. She saw that 
jealousy was not confined to the human and animal world 
alone, but ran through all creation. The Vegetable 
Kingdom knew it too. So-called inanimate nature shared 
it with the rest. Trees felt it. This Forest just beyond 
the window — standing there in the silence of the autumn 
evening across the little lawn — this Forest understood it 
equally. The remorseless, branching power that sought 
to keep exclusively for itself the thing it loved and needed, 
spread like a running desire through all its million leaves 
and stems and roots. In humans, of course, it was con- 
sciously directed ; in animals it acted with frank instinct- 
iveness ; ,but in trees this jealousy rose in some blind tide 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 61 

of impersonal and unconscious wrath that' would sweep 
opposition from its path as the wind sweeps powdered 
snow from the surface of the ice. Their number was a 
host with endless reinforcements, and once it realised its 
passion was returned the power increased. . . . Her 
husband loved the trees. . . . They had become aware of 
it. . . . They would take him from her in the end. . . . 

Then, while she heard his footsteps in the hall and the 
closing of the front door, she saw a third thing clearly — 
realised the widening of the gap between herself and him. 
This other love had made it. All these weeks of the 
summer when she felt so close to him, now especially when 
she had made the biggest sacrifice of her life to stay by his 
side and help him, he had been slowly, surely — drawing 
away. The estrangement was here and now — a fact 
accomplished. It had been all this time maturing ; there 
yawned this broad deep space between them. Across the 
empty distance she saw the change in merciless perspective. 
It revealed his face and figure, dearly-loved, once fondly 
worshipped, far on the other side in shadowy distance, 
small, the back turned from her, and moving while she 
watched — moving away from her. 

They had their tea in silence then. She asked no ques- 
tions, he volunteered no information of his day. The heart 
was big within her, and the terrible loneliness of age spread 
through her like a rising icy mist. She watched him, filling 
all his wants. His hair was untidy and his boots were 
caked with blackish mud. He moved with a restless, 
swaying motion that somehow blanched her cheek and 
sent a miserable shivering down her back. It reminded her 
of trees. His eyes were very bright. 

He brought in with him an odour of the earth and forest 
that seemed to choke her and make it difficult to breathe ; 
and — what she noticed with a climax of almost uncon- 



6z STRANGE STORIES 

trollable alarm — upon his face beneath the lamplight shone 
traces of a mild, faint glory that made her think of moon- 
light falling upon a wood through speckled shadows. It 
was his new-found happiness that shone there, a happiness 
uncaused by her and in which she had no part. 

In his coat was a spray of faded yellow beech leaves. 
" I brought this from the Forest for you," he said, with all 
the air that belonged to his little acts of devotion long ago. 
And she took the spray of leaves mechanically with a smile 
and a murmured " thank you, dear," as though he had 
unknowingly put into her hands the weapon for her own 
destruction and she had accepted it. 

And when the tea was over and he left the room, he did 
not go to his study, or to change his clothes. She heard 
the front door softly shut behind him as he again went out 
towards the Forest. 

A moment later she was in her room upstairs, kneeling 
beside the bed — the side he slept on — and praying wildly 
through a flood of tears that God would save and keep 
him to her. Wind brushed the window panes behind her 
while she knelt. 



VIII 

ONE sunny November morning, when the strain had 
reached a pitch that made repression almost unmanage- 
able, she came to an impulsive decision, and obeyed it. 
Her husband had again gone out with luncheon for the 
day. She took adventure in her hands and followed him. 
The power of seeingidear was strong upon her, forcing her 
up to some unnatural level of understanding. To stay 
indoors and wait inactive for his return seemed suddenly 
impossible. She meant to know what he knew, feel what 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 6j 

he felt, put herself in his place. She would dare the 
fascination of the Forest — share it with him. It was 
greatly daring ; but it would give her greater understanding 
how to help and save him and therefore greater Power- 
She went upstairs a moment first to pray. 

In a thick, warm skirt, and wearing heavy boots — those 
walking boots she used with him upon the mountains about 
Seillans — she left the cottage by the back way and turned 
towards the Forest. She could not actually follow him, 
for he had started off an hour before and she knew not 
exactly his direction. What was so urgent in her was the 
wish to be with him in the woods, to walk beneath the 
leafless branches just as he did : to be there when he was 
there, even though not together. For it had come to her 
that she might thus share with him for once this horrible 
mighty life and breathing of the trees he loved. In winter, 
he had said, they needed him particularly ; and winter 
now was coming. Her love must bring her something of 
what he felt himself — the huge attraction, the suction and 
the pull of all the trees. Thus, in some vicarious fashion, 
she might share, though unknown to himself, this very 
thing that was taking him away from her. She might 
thus even lessen its attack upon himself. 

The impulse came to her clairvoyantly, and she obeyed 
without a sign of hesitation. Deeper comprehension would 
come to her of the whole awful puzzle. And come it did, 
yet not in the way she imagined and expected. 

The air was very still, the sky a cold pale blue, but 
cloudless. The entire Forest stood silent, at attention. 
It knew perfectly well that she had come. It knew the 
moment when she entered ; watched and followed her ; 
and behind her something dropped without a sound and 
shut her in. Her feet upon the glades of mossy grass fell 
silently, as the oaks and beeches shifted past in rows and 



64 STRANGE STORIES 

took up their positions at her back. It was not pleasant, 
this way they grew so dense behind her the instant she 
had passed. She realised that they gathered in an ever- 
growing army, massed, herded, trooped, between her and 
the cottage, shutting off escape. They let her pass so 
easily, but to get out again she would know them differently 
— thick, crowded, branches all drawn and hostile. Already 
their increasing numbers bewildered her. In front, they 
looked so sparse and scattered, with open spaces where the 
sunshine fell ; but when she turned it seemed they stood 
so close together, a serried army, darkening the sunlight. 
They blocked the day, collected all the shadows, stood with 
their leafless and forbidding rampart like the night. They 
swallowed down into themselves the very glade by which 
she came. For when she glanced behind her— rarely — 
the way she had come was shadowy and lost. 

Yet the morning sparkled overhead, and a glance of 
excitement ran quivering through the entire day. It was 
what she always knew as " children's weather," so clear 
and harmless, without a sign of danger, nothing ominous 
to threaten or alarm. Steadfast in her purpose, looking 
back as little as she dared, Sophia Bittacy marched slowly 
and deliberately into the heart of the silent woods, deeper, 
ever deeper. . . . 

And then, abruptly, in an open space where the sunshine 
fell unhindered, she stopped. It was one of the breathing- 
places of the forest. Dead, withered bracken lay in' patches 
of unsightly grey. There were bits of heather too. All 
round the trees stood looking on— oak, beech, holly, ash, 
pine, larch, with here and there small groups of juniper. 
On the lips of this breathing-space of the woods she stopped 
to rest, disobeying her instinct for the first time. For the 
other instinct in her was to go on. She did not really 
want to rest. 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 65 

This was the little act that brought it to her — the wireless 
message from a vast Emitter. 

" I've been stopped," she thought to herself with a 
horrid qualm. 

She looked about her in this quiet, ancient place. No- 
thing stirred. There was no life nor sign of life ; no birds 
sang ; no rabbits scuttled off at her approach. The still- 
ness was bewildering, and gravity hung down upon it like 
a heavy curtain. It hushed the heart in her. Could this 
be part of what her husband felt — -this sense of thick 
entanglement with stems, boughs, roots, and foliage ? 

" This has always been as it is now," she thought, yet 
not knowing why she thought it. " Ever since the Forest 
grew it has been still and secret here. It has never changed." 
The curtain of silence drew closer while she said it, thickening 
round her. " For a thousand years — I'm here with a 
thousand years. And behind this place stand all the 
forests of the world ! " 

So foreign to her temperament were such thoughts, and 
so alien to all she had been taught to look for in Nature, 
that she strove against them. She made an effort to oppose. 
But they clung and haunted just the same ; they refused 
to be dispersed. The curtain hung dense and heavy as 
though its texture thickened. The air with difficulty came 
through. 

And then she thought that curtain stirred. There was 
movement somewhere. That obscure dim thing which ever 
broods behind the visible appearances of trees came nearer 
to her. She caught her breath and stared about her, 
listening intently. The trees, perhaps because she saw 
them more in detail now, it seemed to her had changed. 
A vague, faint alteration spread over them, at first so slight 
she scarcely would admit it, then growing steadily, though 
still obscurely, outwards. " They tremble and are 



66 STRANGE STORIES 

changed," flashed through her mind the horrid line that 
Sanderson had quoted. Yet the change was graceful for 
all the uncouthness attendant upon the size of so vast a 
movement. They had turned in her direction. That was 
it. They saw her. 

In this way the change expressed itself in her groping, 
terrified thought. Till now it had been otherwise : she 
had looked at them from her own point of view ; now they 
looked at her from theirs. They stared her in the face 
and eyes ; they stared at her all over. In some unkind, 
resentful, hostile way, they watched her. Hitherto in life 
she had watched them variously, in superficial ways, 
reading into them what her own mind suggested. Now 
they read into her the things they actually were, and not 
merely another's interpretation of them. 

They seemed in their motionless silence there instinct 
with life, a life, moreover, that breathed about her a species 
of terrible soft enchantment that bewitched. It branched 
all through her, climbing to the brain. The Forest held 
her with its huge and giant fascination. In this secluded 
breathing-spot that the centuries had left untouched, she 
had stepped close against the hidden pulse of the whole 
collective mass of them. They were aware of her and had 
turned to gaze with their myriad, vast sight upon the 
intruder. They shouted at her in the silence. For she 
wanted to look back at them, but it was like staring at a 
crowd, and her glance merely shifted from one tree to 
another, hurriedly, finding in none the one she sought. 
They saw her so easily, each and all. The rows that stood 
behind her also stared. But she could not return the 
gaze. Her husband, she realised, could. And their steady 
stare shocked her as though in some sense she knew that 
she was naked. They saw so much of her : she saw of 
them — so little. 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 67 

Her efforts to return their gaze were pitiful. The 
constant shifting increased her bewilderment. Conscious 
of this awful and enormous sight all over her, she let her 
eyes first rest upon the ground ; and then she closed them 
altogether. She kept the lids as tight together as ever 
they would go. 

But the sight of the trees came even into that inner 
darkness behind the fastened lids, for there was no escaping 
it. Outside, in the light, she still knew that the leaves of 
the hollies glittered smoothly, that the dead foliage of the 
oaks hung crisp in the air above her, that the needles of 
the little junipers were pointing all one way. The spread 
perception of the Forest was focussed on herself, and no 
mere shutting of the eyes could hide its scattered yet con- 
centrated stare — the all-inclusive vision of great woods. 

There was no wind, yet here and there a single leaf 
hanging by its dried-up stalk shook all alone with great 
rapidity — rattling. It was the sentry drawing attention 
to her presence. And then, again, as once long weeks 
before, she felt their Being as a tide about her. The tide 
had turned. That memory of her childhood sands came 
back, when the nurse said, " The tide has turned now ; we 
must go in," and she saw the mass of piled-up waters, green 
and heaped to the horizon, and realised that it was slowly 
coming in. The gigantic mass of it, too vast for hurry, 
loaded with massive purpose, she used to feel, was moving 
towards herself. The fluid body of the sea was creeping 
along beneath the sky to the very spot upon the yellow 
sands where she stood and played. The sight and thought 
of it had always overwhelmed her with a sense of awe — as 
though her puny self were the object of the whole sea's 
advance. " The tide has turned ; wehad betternow goin." 

This was happening now about her — the same thing was 
happening in the woods— slow, sure, and steady, and its 



68 STRANGE STORIES 

motion as little discernible as the sea's. The tide had 
turned. The small human presence that had ventured 
among its green and mountainous depths, moreover, was 
its objective. 

That all was clear within her while she sat and waited 
with tight-shut lids. But the next moment she opened 
her eyes with a sudden realization of something more. 
The presence that it sought was after all not hers. It was 
the presence of some one other than herself. And then she 
understood. Her eyes had opened with a click, it seemed ; 
but the sound, in reality, was outside herself. Across the 
clearing where the sunshine lay so calm and still, she saw 
the figure of her husband moving among the trees — a man, 
like a tree, walking. 

With hands behind his back, and head uplifted, he moved 
quite slowly, as though absorbed in his own thoughts. 
Hardly fifty paces separated them, but he had no inkling 
of her presence there so near. With mind intent and senses 
all turned inwards, he marched past her like a figure in a 
dream, and like a figure in a dream she saw him go. Love, 
yearning, pity rose in a storm within her, but as in night- 
mare she found no words or movement possible. She sat 
and watched him go — go from her — go into the deeper 
reaches of the green enveloping woods. Desire to save, 
to bid him stop and turn, ran in a passion through her 
being, but there was nothing she could do. She saw him 
go away from her, go of his own accord and willingly beyond 
her ; she saw the branches drop about his steps and hide 
him. His figure faded out among the speckled shade and 
sunlight. The trees covered him. The tide just took 
him, all unresisting and content to go. Upon the bosom 
of the green soft sea he floated away beyond her reach of 
vision. Her eyes could follow him no longer. He was gone. 

And then for the first time she realised, even at that 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 69 

distance, that the look upon his face was one of peace and 
happiness — rapt, and caught away in joy, a look of youth. 
That expression now he never showed to her. But she 
had known it. Years ago, in the early days of their married 
life, she had seen it on his face. Now it no longer obeyed 
the summons of her presence and her love. The woods 
alone could call it forth ; it answered to the trees ; the 
Forest had taken every part of him — from her — -his very 
heart and soul. . . . 

Her sight that had plunged inwards to the fields of faded 
memory now came back to outer things again. She looked 
about her, and her love, returning empty-handed and 
unsatisfied, left her open to the invading of the bleakest 
terror she had ever known. That such things could be real 
and happen found her helpless utterly. Terror invaded 
the quietest corners of her heart, that had never yet known 
quailing. She could not — for moments at any rate — reach 
either her Bible or her God. Desolate in an empty world 
of fear she sat with eyes too dry and hot for tears, yet with 
a coldness as of ice upon her very flesh. She stared, un- 
seeing, about her. That horror which stalks in the stillness 
of the noonday, when the glare of an artificial sunshine 
lights up the motionless trees, moved all about her. In 
front and behind she was aware of it. Beyond this stealthy 
silence, just within the edge of it, the things of another 
world were passing. But she could not know them. Her 
husband knew them, knew their beauty and their awe, yes, 
but for her they were out of reach. She might not share 
with him the very least of them. It seemed that behind 
and through the glare of this wintry noonday in the heart 
of the woods there brooded another universe of life and 
passion, for her all unexpressed. The silence veiled it, the 
stillness hid it ; but be moved with it all and understood. 
His love interpreted it. 



7° STRANGE STORIES 

She rose to her feet, tottered feebly, and collapsed again 
upon the moss. Yet for herself she felt no terror ; no little 
personal fear could touch her whose anguish and deep 
longing streamed all out to him whom she so bravely loved. 
In this time of utter self-forgetfulness, when she realised 
that the battle was hopeless, thinking she had lost even her 
God, she found Him again quite close beside her like a little 
Presence in this terrible heart of the hostile Forest. But 
at first she did not recognise that He was there ; she did 
not know Him in that strangely unacceptable guise. For 
He stood so very close, so very intimate, so very sweet and 
comforting, and yet so hard to understand — as Resignation. 

Once more she struggled to her feet, and this time turned 
successfully and slowly made her way along the mossy glade 
by which she came. And at first she marvelled, though 
only for a moment, at the ease with which she found the 
path. For a moment only, because almost at once she saw 
the truth. The trees were glad that she should go. They 
helped her on her way. The Forest did not want her. 

The tide was coming in, indeed, yet not for her. 

And so, in another of those flashes of clear-vision that 
of late had lifted life above the normal level, she saw and 
understood the whole terrible thing complete. 

Till now, though unexpressed in thought or language, 
her fear had been that the woods her husband loved would 
somehow take him from her — to merge his life in theirs — 
even to kill him in some mysterious way. This time she 
saw her deep mistake, and so seeing, let in upon herself 
the fuller agony of horror. For their jealousy was not the 
petty jealousy of animals or humans. They wanted him 
because they loved him, but they did not want him dead. 
Full charged with his splendid life and enthusiasm they 
wanted him. They wanted him — alive. 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 71 

It was she who stood in their way, and it was she whom 
they intended to remove. 

This was what brought the sense of abject helplessness. 
She stood upon the sands against an entire ocean slowly 
rolling in against her. For, as all the forces of a human 
being combine unconsciously to eject a grain of sand that 
has crept beneath the skin to cause discomfort, so the 
entire mass of what Sanderson had called the Collective 
Consciousness of the Forest strove to eject this human 
atom that stood across the path of its desire. Loving her 
husband, she had crept beneath its skin. It was her they 
would eject and take away ; it was her they would destroy, 
not him. Him, whom they loved and needed, they would 
keep alive. They meant to take him living. 

She reached the house in safety, though she never 
remembered how she found her way. It was made all 
simple for her. The branches almost urged her out. 

But behind her, as she left the shadowed precincts, she 
felt as though some towering Angel of the Woods let fall 
across the threshold the flaming sword of a countless multi- 
tude of leaves that formed behind her a barrier, green, 
shimmering, and impassable. Into the Forest she never 
walked again. 



And she went about her daily duties with a calm and 
quietness that was a perpetual astonishment even to 
herself, for it hardly seemed of this world at all. She talked 
to her husband when he came in for tea — after dark. 
Resignation brings a curious large courage — when there is 
nothing more to lose. The soul takes risks, and dares. Is 
it a curious short-cut sometimes to the heights ? 

" David, I went into the Forest, too, this morning ; soon 
after you I went. I saw you there." 



72 STRANGE STORIES 

" Wasn't it wonderful ? " he answered simply, inclining 
his head a little. There was no surprise or annoyance in 
his look ; a mild and gentle ennui rather. He asked no 
real question. She thought of some garden tree the wind 
attacks too suddenly, bending it over when it does not want 
to bend — the mild unwillingness with which it yields. She 
often saw him this way now, in the terms of trees. 

" It was very wonderful indeed, dear, yes," she replied 
low, her voice not faltering though indistinct. " But for 
me it was too — too strange and big." 

The passion of tears lay just below the quiet voice all 
unbetrayed. Somehow she kept them back. 

There was a pause, and then he added : 

"I find it more and more so every day." His voice 
passed through the lamp-lit room like a murmur of the 
wind in branches. The look of youth and happiness she 
had caught upon his face out there had wholly gone, and 
an expression of weariness was in its place, as of a man 
distressed vaguely at finding himself in uncongenial sur- 
roundings where he is slightly ill at ease. It was the house 
he hated — coming back to rooms and walls and furniture. 
The ceilings and closed windows confined him. Yet, in 
it, no suggestion that he found her irksome. Her presence 
seemed of no account at all ; indeed, he hardly noticed 
her. For whole long periods he lost her, did not know that 
she was there. He had no need of her. He lived alone. 
Each lived alone. 

The outward signs by which she recognised that the 
awful battle was against her and the terms of surrender 
accepted were pathetic. She put the medicine-chest away 
upon the shelf ; she gave the orders for his pocket-luncheon 
before he asked ; she went to bed alone and early, leaving 
the front door unlocked, with milk and bread and butter 
in the hall beside the lamp — all concessions that she felt 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 73 

impelled to make. For more and more, unless the weather 
was too violent, he went out after dinner even, staying for 
hours in the woods. But she never slept until she heard 
the front door close below, and knew soon afterwards his 
careful step come creeping up the stairs and into the room 
so softly. Until she heard his regular deep breathing close 
beside her, she lay awake. All strength or desire to resist 
had gone for good. The thing against her was too huge 
and powerful. Capitulation was complete, a fact accom- 
plished. She dated it from the day she followed him to 
the Forest. 

Moreover, the time for evacuation — her own evacuation 
— seemed approaching. It came stealthily ever nearer, 
surely and slowly as the rising tide she used to dread. 
At the high-water mark she stood waiting calmly— waiting 
to be swept away. Across the lawn all those terrible days 
of early winter the encircling Forest watched it come, 
guiding its silent swell and currents towards her feet. Only 
she never once gave up her Bible or her praying. . This 
complete resignation, moreover, had somehow brought to 
her a strange great understanding, and if she could not 
share her husband's horrible abandonment to powers out- 
side himself, she could, and did, in some half-groping way 
grasp at shadowy meanings that might make such abandon- 
ment — possible, yes, but more than merely possible — in 
some extraordinary sense not evil. 

Hitherto she had divided the beyond-world into two 
sharp halves — spirits good or spirits evil. But thoughts 
came to her now, on soft and very tentative feet, like the 
footsteps of the gods which are on wool, that besides these 
definite classes, there might be other Powers as well, 
belonging definitely to neither one nor other. Her thought 
stopped dead at that. But the big idea found lodgment 
in her little mind, and, owing to the largeness of her heart, 



74 STRANGE STORIES 

remained there unejected. It even brought a certain solace 
with it. 

The failure — or unwillingness, as she preferred to state 
it — of her God to interfere and help, that also she came in 
a measure to understand. For here, she found it more 
and more possible to imagine, was perhaps no positive evil 
at work, but only something that usually stands away from 
humankind, something alien and not commonly recognised. 
There was a gulf fixed between the two, and Mr. Sanderson 
had bridged it, by his talk, his explanations, his attitude 
of mind. Through these her husband had found the way 
into it. His temperament and natural passion for the 
woods had prepared the soul in him, and the moment he 
saw the way to go he took it — the line of least resistance. 
Life was, of course, open to all, and her husband had the 
right to choose it where he would. He had chosen it — 
away from her, away from other men, but not necessarily 
away from God. This was an enormous concession that 
she skirted, never really faced ; it was too revolutionary 
to face. But its possibility peeped into her bewildered 
mind. It might delay his progress, or it might advance it. 
Who could know ? And why should God, who ordered 
all things with such magnificent detail, from the pathway 
of a sun to the falling of a sparrow, object to his free choice, 
or interfere to hinder him and stop ? 

She came to realise resignation, that is, in another aspect. 
It gave her comfort, if not peace. She fought against all be- 
littling of her God. It was, perhaps, enough that He — -knew. 

" You are not alone, dear, in the trees out there ? " she 
ventured one night, as he crept on tiptoe into the room not 
far from midnight. " God is with you ? " 

" Magnificently," was the immediate answer, given with 
enthusiasm, " for He is everywhere. And I only wish that 
you " 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 75 

But she stuffed the clothes against her ears. That invi- 
tation on his lips was more than she could bear to hear. 
It seemed like asking her to hurry to her own execution. 
She buried her face among the sheets and blankets, shaking 
all over like a leaf. 



IX 

AND so the thought that she was the one to go remained 
and grew. It was, perhaps, first sign of that weakening 
of the mind which indicated the singular manner of her 
going. For it was her mental opposition, the trees felt, 
that stood in their way. Once that was overcome, 
obliterated, her physical presence did not matter. She 
would be harmless. 

Having accepted defeat, because she had come to feel 
that his obsession was not actually evil, she accepted at 
the same time the conditions of an atrocious loneliness. 
She stood now from her husband farther than from the 
moon. They had no visitors. Callers were few and far 
between, and less encouraged than before. The empty 
dark of winter was before them. Among the neighbours 
was none in whom, without disloyalty to her husband, she 
could confide. Mr. Mortimer, had he been single, might 
have helped her in this desert of solitude that preyed upon 
her mind, but his wife was there the obstacle ; for Mrs. 
Mortimer wore sandals, believed that nuts were the com- 
plete food of man, and indulged in other idiosyncrasies that 
classed her inevitably among the " latter signs " which 
Mrs. Bittacy had been taught to dread as dangerous. She 
stood most desolately alone. 

Solitude, therefore, in which the mind unhindered feeds 



76 STRANGE STORIES 

upon its own delusions, was the assignable cause of her 
gradual mental disruption and collapse. 

With the definite arrival of the colder weather her 
husband gave up his rambles after dark ; evenings were 
spent together over the fire ; he read The Times ; they 
even talked about their postponed visit abroad in the 
coming spring. No restlessness was on him at the change ; 
he seemed content and easy in his mind ; spoke little of 
the trees and woods ; enjoyed far better health than if 
there had been change of scene, and to herself was tender, 
kind, solicitous over trifles, as in the distant days of their 
first honeymoon. 

But this deep calm could not deceive her ; it meant, 
she fully understood, that he felt sure of himself, sure of 
her, and sure of the trees as well. It all lay buried in the 
depths of him, too secure and deep, too intimately estab- 
lished in his central being to permit of those surface fluc- 
tuations which betray disharmony within. His life was 
hid with trees. Even the fever, so dreaded in the damp 
of winter, left him free. She now knew why. The fever 
was due to their efforts to obtain him, his efforts to respond 
and go — physical results of a fierce unrest he had never 
understood till Sanderson came with his wicked explana- 
tions. Now it was otherwise. The bridge was made. 
And — he had gone. 

And she, brave, loyal, and consistent soul, found herself 
utterly alone, even trying to make his passage easy. It 
seemed that she stood at the bottom of some huge ravine 
that opened in her mind, the walls whereof instead of rock 
were trees that reached enormous to the sky, engulfing her. 
God alone knew that she was there. He watched, per- 
mitted, even perhaps approved. At any rate — He knew. 

During those quiet evenings in the house, moreover, 
while they sat over the fire listening to the roaming winds 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 77 

about the house, her husband knew continual access to the 
world his alien love had furnished for him. Never for a 
single instant was he cut off from it. She gazed at the 
newspaper spread before his face and knees, saw the smoke 
of his cheroot curl up above the edge, noticed the little hole 
in his evening socks, and listened to the paragraphs he 
read aloud as of old. But this was all a veil he spread about 
himself on purpose. Behind it — he escaped. It was the 
conjurer's trick to divert the sight to unimportant ditails 
while the essential thing went forward unobserved. He 
managed wonderfully ; she loved him for the pains he took 
to spare her distress ; but all the while she knew that the 
body lolling in that armchair before her eyes contained the 
merest fragment of his actual self. It was little better than 
a corpse. It was an empty shell. The essential soul of 
him was out yonder with the Forest — farther out near that 
ever-roaring heart of it. 

And, with the dark, the Forest came up boldly and 
pressed against the very walls and windows, peering in 
upon them, joining hands above the slates and chimneys. 
The winds were always walking on the lawn and gravel 
paths ; steps came and went and came again ; some one 
seemed always talking in the woods, some one was in the 
building too. She passed them on the stairs, or running 
soft and muffled, very large and gentle, down the passages 
and landings after dusk, as though loose fragments of the 
Day had broken off and stayed there caught among the 
shadows, trying to get out. They blundered silently all 
about the house. They waited till she passed, then made 
a run for it. And her husband always knew. She saw him 
more than once deliberately avoid them — because she was 
there. More than once, too, she saw him stand and listen 
when he thought she was not near, then heard herself the 
long bounding stride of their approach across the silent 



78 STRANGE STORIES 

garden. Already he had heard them in the windy distance 
of the night, far, far away. They sped, she well knew, 
along that glade of mossy turf by which she last came out ; 
it cushioned their tread exactly as it had cushioned her 
own. 

It seemed to her the trees were always in the house with 
him, and in their very bedroom. He welcomed them, 
unaware that she also knew, and trembled. 

Oae night in their bedroom it caught her unawares. She 
woke out of deep sleep and it came upon her before she 
could gather her forces for control. 

The day had been wildly boisterous, but now the wind 
had dropped ; only its rags went fluttering through the 
night. The rays of the full moon fell in a shower between 
the branches. Overhead still raced the scud and wrack, 
shaped like hurrying monsters ; but below the earth was 
quiet. Still and dripping stood the hosts of trees. Their 
trunks gleamed wet and sparkling where the moon caught 
them. There was a strong smell of mould and fallen leaves. 
The air was sharp — heavy with odour. 

And she knew all this the instant that she woke ; for it 
seemed to her that she had been elsewhere — following her 
husband — as though she had been out ! There was no 
dream at all, merfly this definite, haunting certainty. It 
dived away, lost, buried in the night. She sat upright in 
bed. She had come back. 

The room shone pale in the moonlight reflected through 
the windows, for the blinds were up and she saw her 
husband's form beside her, motionless in deep sleep. But 
what caught her unawares was the horrid thing that by 
this fact of sudden, unexpected waking she had surprised 
these other things in the room, beside the very bed, gathered 
close about him while he slept. It was their dreadful 
boldness — herself of no account as it were — that terrified 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 79 

her into screaming before she could collect her powers to 
prevent. She screamed before she realised what she did 
— a long, high shriek of terror that filled the room, yet 
made so little actual sound. For wet and shimmering 
presences stood grouped all round that bed. She saw their 
outline underneath the ceiling, the green, spread bulk of 
them, their vague extension over walls and furniture. They 
shifted to and fro, massed yet translucent, mild yet thick, 
moving and turning within themselves to a hushed noise 
of multitudinous soft rustling. In their sound was some- 
thing very sweet and winning that fell into her with a spell 
of horrible enchantment. They were so mild, each one 
alone, yet so terrific in their combination. Cold seized 
her. The sheets against her body turned to ice. 

She screamed a second time, though the sound hardly 
issued from her throat. The spell sank deeper, reaching 
to the heart ; for it softened all the currents of her blood 
and took life from her in a stream — towards themselves. 
Resistance in that moment seemed impossible. 

Her husband then stirred in his sleep, and woke. And, 
instantly, the forms drew up, erect, and gathered them- 
selves in some amazing way together. They lessened in 
extent — then scattered through the air like an effect of 
light when shadows seek to smother it. It was tremendous, 
yet most exquisite. A sheet of pale-green shadow that 
yet had form and substance filled the room. There was 
a rush of silent movement, as the Presences drew past her 
through the air — and they were gone. 

But, clearest of all, she saw the manner of their going ; 
for she recognised in their tumult of escape by the window 
open at the top, the same wide " looping circles " — spirals 
it seemed — that she had seen upon the lawn those weeks 
ago when Sanderson had talked. The room once more 
was empty. 



80 STRANGE STORIES 

In the collapse that followed, she heard her husband's 
voice, as though coming from some great distance. Her 
own replies she heard as well. Both were so strange and 
unlike their normal speech, the very words unnatural : 

" What is it, dear ? Why do you wake me now ? " 
And his voice whispered it with a sighing sound, like wind 
in pine boughs. 

" A moment since something went past me through the 
air of the room. Back to the night outside it went." Her 
voice, too, held the same note as of wind entangled among 
too many leaves. 

" My dear, it was the wind." 

" But it called, David. It was calling you — by name ! " 

" The stir of the branches, dear, was what you heard. 
Now, sleep again, I beg you, sleep." 

" It had a crowd of eyes all through and over it — before 

and behind " Her voice grew louder. But his own 

in reply sank lower, far away, and oddly hushed. 

" The moonlight, dear, upon the sea of twigs and boughs 
in the rain, was what you saw." 

" But it frightened me. I've lost my God — and you — 
I'm cold as death ! " 

" My dear, it is the cold of the early morning hours. 
The whole world sleeps. Now sleep again yourself." 

He whispered close to her ear. She felt his hand stroking 
her. His voice was soft and very soothing. But only a 
part of him was there ; only a part of him was speaking ; 
it was a half-emptied body that lay beside her and uttered 
these strange sentences, even forcing her own singular 
choice of words. The horrible, dim enchantment of the 
trees was close about them in the room — gnarled, ancient, 
lonely trees of winter, whispering round the human life 
they loved. 

" And let me sleep again," she heard him murmur as- 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 81 

he settled down among the clothes, " sleep back into that 
deep, delicious peace from which you called me . . ." 

His dreamy, happy tone, and that look of youth and joy 
she discerned upon his features even in the filtered moon- 
light, touched her again as with the spell of those shining, 
mild green presences. It sank down into her. She felt 
sleep grope for her. On the threshold of slumber one of 
those strange vagrant voices that loss of consciousness lets 
loose cried faintly in her heart : 

" There is joy in the Forest over one sinner that " 

Then sleep took her before she had time to realise even 
that she was vilely parodying one of her most precious 
texts, and that the irreverence was ghastly. ... 

And though she quickly slept again, her sleep was not 
as usual, dreamless. It was not woods and trees she 
dreamed of, but a small and curious dream that kept coming 
again and again upon her : that she stood upon a wee, bare 
rock in the sea, and that the tide was rising. The water 
first came to her feet, then to her knees, then to her waist. 
Each time the dream returned, the tide seemed higher. 
Once it rose to her neck, once even to her mouth, covering 
her lips for a moment so that she could not breathe. She 
did not wake between the dreams ; a period of drab and 
dreamless slumber intervened. But, finally, the water rose 
above her eyes and face, completely covering her head. 

And then came explanation — the sort of explanation 
dreams bring. She understood. For, beneath the water, 
she had seen the world of seaweed rising from the bottom 
of the sea like a forest of dense green — long, sinuous stems, 
immense thick branches, millions of feelers spreading 
through the darkened watery depths the. power of their 
ocean foliage. The Vegetable Kingdom was even in the 
sea. It was everywhere. Earth, air, and water helped it, 
way of escape there was none. 



82 STRANGE STORIES 

And even underneath the sea she heard that terrible 
sound of roaring — was it surf or wind or voices ? — further 
out, yet coming steadily towards her. 

And so, in the loneliness of that drab English winter, the 
mind of Mrs. Bittacy, preying upon itself, and fed by 
constant dread, went lost in disproportion. Dreariness 
filled the weeks with dismal, sunless skies and a clinging 
moisture that knew no wholesome tonic of keen frosts. 
Alone with her thoughts, both her husband and her God 
withdrawn into distance, she counted the days to Spring. 
She groped her way, stumbling down the long dark tunnel. 
Through the arch at the far end lay a brilliant picture of the 
violet sea sparkling on the coast of France. There lay 
safety and escape for both of them, could she but hold on. 
Behind her the trees blocked up the other entrance. She 
never once looked back. 

She drooped. Vitality passed from her, drawn out and 
away as by some steady suction. Immense and incessant 
was this sensation of her powers draining off. The taps 
were all turned on. Her personality, as it were, streamed 
steadily away, coaxed outwards by this Power that never 
wearied and seemed inexhaustible. It won her as the full 
moon wins the tide. She waned ; she faded ; she obeyed. 

At first she watched the process, and recognised exactly 
what was going on. Her physical life, and that balance of 
the mind which depends on physical well-being, were being 
slowly undermined. She saw that clearly. Only the soul, 
dwelling like a star apart from these and independent of 
them, lay safe somewhere — with her distant God. That 
she knew — tranquilly. The spiritual love that linked her 
to her husband was safe from all attack. Later, in His 
good time, they would merge together again because of it. 
But, meanwhile, all of her that had kinship with the earth 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 83 

was slowly going. This separation was being remorselessly 
accomplished. Every part of her the trees could touch was 
being steadily drained from her. She was being— removed. 
After a time, however, even this power of realisation went, 
so that she no longer "watched the process" or knew exactly 
what was going on. The one satisfaction she had known — 
the feeling that it was sweet to suffer for his sake — went 
with it. She stood utterly alone with this terror of the 
trees . . . mid the ruins of her broken and disordered 
mind. 

She slept badly ; woke in the morning with hot and 
tired eyes ; her head ached dully ; she grew confused in 
thought and lost the clues of daily life in the most feeble 
fashion. At the same time she lost sight, too, of that 
brilliant picture at the exit of the tunnel ; it faded away 
into a tiny semi-circle of pale light, the violet sea and the 
sunshine the merest point of white, remote as a star and 
equally inaccessible. She knew now that she could never 
reach it. And through the darkness that stretched behind, 
the power of the trees came close and caught her, twining 
about her feet and arms, climbing to her very lips. She 
woke at night, finding it difficult to breathe. There seemed 
wet leaves pressed against her mouth, and soft green 
tendrils clinging to her neck. Her feet were heavy, half 
rooted, as it were, in deep, thick earth. Huge creepers 
stretched along the whole of that black tunnel, feeling 
about her person for points where they might fasten well, 
as ivy or the giant parasites of the Vegetable Kingdom 
settle down on the trees themselves to sap their life and kill 
them. 

Slowly and surely the morbid growth possessed her life 
and held her. She feared those very winds that ran about 
the wintry forest. They were in league with it. They 
helped it everywhere. 



84 STRANGE STORIES 

" Why don't you sleep, dear ? " It was her husband 
now who played the role of nurse, tending her little wants 
with an honest care that at least aped the services of love. 

He was so utterly unconscious of the raging battle he 
had- caused. " What is it keeps you so wide awake and 
restless ? " 

" The winds," she whispered in the dark. For hours she 
had lain watching the tossing of the trees through the 
Windless windows. " They go walking and talking every- 
where to-night, keeping me awake. And all the time they 
call so loudly to you." 

And his strange whispered answer appalled her for a 
moment until the meaning of it faded and left her in a dark 
confusion of the mind that was now becoming almost 
permanent. 

" The trees excite them in the night. The winds are the 
great swift carriers. Go with them, dear — and not against. 
You'll find sleep that way if you do." 

" The storm is rising," she began, hardly knowing what 
she said. 

" All the more then — go with them. Don't resist. 
They'll take you to the trees, that's all." 

Resist ! The word touched on the button of some text 
that once had helped her. 

" Resist the devil and he will flee from you," she heard 
her whispered answer, and the same second had buried her 
face beneath the clothes in a flood of hysterical weeping. 

But her husband did not seem disturbed. Perhaps he 
did not hear it, for the wind ran just then against the 
windows with a booming shout, and the roaring of the 
Forest farther out came behind the blow, surging into the 
room. Perhaps, too, he was already asleep again. She 
slowly regained a sort of dull composure. Her face emerged 
from the tangle of sheets and blankets. With a growing 



THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED 85 

terror over her — she listened. The storm was rising. It 
came with a sudden and impetuous rush that made all 
further sleep for her impossible. 

Alone in a shaking world, it seemed, she lay and listened. 
That storm interpreted for her mind the climax. The 
Forest bellowed out its victory to the winds ; the winds in 
turn proclaimed it to the Night. The whole world knew of 
her complete defeat, her loss, her little human pain. This 
was the roar and shout of victory that she listened to. 

For, unmistakably, the trees were shouting in the dark. 
There were sounds, too, like the flapping of great sails, a 
thousand at a time, and sometimes reports that resembled 
more than anything else the distant booming of enormous 
drums. The trees stood up — the whole beleaguering host 
of them stood up — and with the uproar of their million 
branches drummed the thundering message out across the 
night. It seemed as if they all had broken loose. Their 
roots swept trailing over field and hedge and roof. They 
tossed their bushy heads beneath the clouds with a wild, 
delighted shuffling of great boughs. With trunks upright 
they raced leaping through the sky. There was upheaval 
and adventure in the awful sound they made, and their cry 
was like the cry of a sea that has broken through its gates 
and poured loose upon the world. . . . 

Through it all her husband slept peacefully as though he 
heard it not. It was, as she well knew, the sleep of the 
semi-dead. For he was out with all that clamouring 
turmoil. The part of him that she had lost was there. 
The form that slept so calmly at her side was but the shell, 
half emptied. . . . 

And when the winter's morning stole upon the scene at 
length, with a pale, washed sunshine that followed the 
departing tempest, the first thing she saw, as she crept to 
the window and looked out, was the ruined cedar lying on 



86 STRANGE STORIES 

the lawn. Only the gaunt and crippled trunk of it remained. 
The single giant bough that had been left to it lay dark 
upon the grass, sucked endways towards the Forest by a 
great wind eddy. It lay there like a mass of drift-wood 
from a wreck, left by the ebbing of a high springtide upon 
the sands — remnant of some friendly, splendid vessel that 
once had sheltered men. 

And in the distance she heard the roaring of the Forest 
further out. Her husband's voice was in it. 

HOLMESLY. 



THE SEA FIT 

THE sea that night sang rather than chanted ; all along 
the far-running shore a rising tide dropped thick foam, 
and the waves, white-crested, came steadily in with the 
swing of a deliberate purpose. Overhead, in a cloudless 
sky, that ancient Enchantress, the full moon, watched their 
dance across the sheeted sands, guiding them carefully 
while she drew them up. For through that moonlight, 
through that roar of surf, there penetrated a singular note 
of earnestness and meaning — almost as though these 
common processes of Nature were instinct with the flush 
of an unusual activity that sought audaciously to cross the 
borderland into some subtle degree of conscious life. A 
gauze of light vapour clung upon the surface of the sea, far 
out — a transparent carpet through which the rollers drove 
shorewards in a moving pattern. 

In the low-roofed bungalow among the sand-dunes the 
three men sat. Foregathered for Easter, they spent the 
day fishing and sailing, and at night told yarns of the days 
when life was younger. It was fortunate that there were 
three — and later four — because in the mouths of several 
witnesses an extraordinary thing shall be established — 
when they agree. And although whisky stood upon the 
rough table made of planks nailed to barrels, it is childish 
to pretend that a few drinks invalidate evidence, for alcohol, 
up to a certain point, intensifies the consciousness, focuses 
the intellectual powers, sharpens observation ; and two 
healthy men, certainly three, must have imbibed an absurd 
amount before they all see, or omit to see, the same things. 
The other bungalows still awaited their summer occupants. 

87 



88 STRANGE STORIES 

Only the lonely tufted sand-dunes watched the sea, shaking 
their hair of coarse white grass to the winds. The men had 
the whole spit to themselves — with the wind, the spray, the 
flying gusts of sand, and that great Easter full moon. 
There was Major Reese of the Gunners and his half-brother, 
Dr. Malcolm Reese, and Captain Erricson, their host, all 
men whom the kaleidoscope of life had jostled together a 
decade ago in many adventures, then flung for years apart 
about the globe. There was also Erricson's body-servant, 
" Sinbad," sailor of big seas, and a man who had shared on 
many a ship all the lust of strange adventure that dis- 
tinguished his great blonde-haired owner — an ideal servant 
and dog-faithful, divining his master's moods almost 
before they were born. On the present occasion, besides 
crew of the fishing-smack, he was cook, valet, and steward 
of the bungalow smoking-room as well. 

" Big Erricson," Norwegian by extraction, student by 
adoption, wanderer by blood, a Viking reincarnated if ever 
there was one, belonged to that type of primitive man in 
whom burns an inborn love and passion for the sea that 
amounts to positive worship — devouring tide, a lust and 
fever in the soul. " All genuine votaries of the old sea-gods 
have it," he used to say, by way of explaining his careless- 
ness.of worldly ambitions. " We're never at our best away 
from salt water — never quite right. I've got it bang in the 
heart myself. I'd do a bit before the mast sooner than 
make a million on shore. Simply can't help it, you see, and 
never could ! It's our gods calling us to worship." And 
he had never tried to " help it," which explains why he 
owned nothing in the world on land except this tumble- 
down, one-story bungalow — more like a ship's cabin than 
anything else, to which he sometimes asked his bravest and 
most faithful friends — and a store of curious reading 
gathered in long, becalmed days at the ends of the world. 



THE SEA FIT 89 

Heart and mind, that is, carried a queer cargo. " I'm 
sorry if you poor devils are uncomfortable in her. You 
must ask Sinbad for anything you want and don't see, 
remember." As though Sinbad could have supplied 
comforts that were miles away, or converted a draughty 
wreck into a snug, taut, brand-new vessel. 

Neither of the Reeses had cause for grumbling on the 
score of comfort, however, for they knew the keen joys of 
roughing it, and both weather and sport besides had been 
glorious. It was on another score this particular evening 
that they found cause for uneasiness, if not for actual 
grumbling. Erricson had one of his queer sea fits on — the 
Doctor was responsible for the term — and was in the thick 
of it, plunging like a straining boat at anchor, talking in a 
way that made them both feel vaguely uncomfortable and 
distressed. Neither of them knew exactly perhaps why he 
should have felt this growing malaise, and each was secretly 
vexed with the other for confirming his own unholy instinct 
that something uncommon was astir. The loneliness of the 
sand-spit and that melancholy singing of the sea before 
their very door may have had something to do with it, 
seeing that both were landsmen ; for Imagination is ever 
Lord of the Lonely Places, and adventurous men remain 
children to the last. But, whatever it was that affected 
both men in different fashion, Malcolm Reese, the doctor, 
had not thought it necessary to mention to his brother that 
Sinbad had tugged his sleeve on entering and whispered in 
his ear significantly : " Full moon, sir, please, and he's 
better without too much ! These high spring tides get him 
all caught off his feet sometimes — clean sea-crazy " ; and 
the man had contrived to let the doctor see the hilt of a 
small pistol he carried in his hip-pocket. 

For Erricson had got upon his old subject : that the gods 
were not dead, but merely withdrawn, and that even a 



9 o STRANGE STORIES 

single true worshipper was enough to draw them down 
again into touch with the world, into the sphere of humanity, 
even into active and visible manifestation. He spoke of 
queer things he had seen in queerer places. He was serious, 
vehement, voluble ; and the others had let it pour out 
unchecked, hoping thereby for its speedier exhaustion. 
They puffed their pipes in comparative silence, nodding 
from time to time, shrugging their shoulders, the soldier 
mystified and bewildered, the doctor alert and keenly 
watchful. 

" And I like the old idea," he had been saying, speaking 
of these departed pagan deities, " that sacrifice and ritual 
feed their great beings, and that death is only the final 
sacrifice by which the worshipper becomes absorbed into 
them. The devout worshipper " — and there was a singular 
drive and power behind the words — " should go to his death 
singing, as to a wedding — the wedding of his soul with the 
particular deity he has loved and served all his life." He 
swept his tow-coloured beard with one hand, turning his 
shaggy head towards the window, where the moonlight lay 
upon the procession of shaking waves. " It's playing the 
whole game, I always think, man-fashion. ... I re- 
member once, some years ago, down there. off the coast by 

Yucatan " 

And then, before they could interfere, he told an extra- 
ordinary tale of something he had seen years ago, but told it 
with such a horrid earnestness of conviction — for it was 
dreadful, though fine, this adventure— that his listeners 
shifted in their wicker chairs, struck matches unnecessarily, 
pulled at their long glasses, and exchanged glances that 
attempted a smile yet did not quite achieve it. For the 
tale had to do with sacrifice of human life and a rather 
haunting pagan ceremonial of the sea, and at its close the 
room had changed in some indefinable manner— was not 



THE SEA FIT 91 

exactly as it had been before perhaps — as though the savage- 
earnestness of the language had introduced some new 
element that made it less cosy, less cheerful, even less warm. 
A secret lust in the man's heart, born of the sea, and of his 
intense admiration of the pagan gods called a light into his- 
eye not altogether pleasant. 

" They were great Powers, at any rate, those ancient 
fellows," Erricson'went on, refilling his huge pipe bowl j. 
" too great to disappear altogether, though to-day they 
may walk the earth in another manner. I swear they're- 

still going it — especially the " (he hesitated for a mere 

second) " the old water Powers — the sea Gods. Terrible- 
beggars, every one of 'em." 

" Still move the tides and raise the winds, eh ? " from the- 
Doctor. 

Erricson spoke again after a moment's silence, with 
impressive dignity. " And I like, too, the way they manage 
to keep their names before us," he went on, with a curious 
eagerness that did not escape the Doctor's observation,, 
while it clearly puzzled the soldier. " There's old Hu, the 
Druid god of justice, still alive in ' Hue and Cry ' ; there's 
Typhon hammering his way against us in the typhoon ;. 
there's the mighty Hurakar, serpent god of the winds, you 
know, shouting to us in hurricane and ouragan ; and 
there's " 

" Venus still at it as hard as ever," interrupted the 
Major, facetiously, though his brother did not laugh be- 
cause of their host's almost sacred earnestness of manner 
and uncanny grimness of face. Exactly how he managed 
to introduce that element of gravity — of conviction — into 
such talk neither of his listeners quite understood, for in 
discussing the affair later they were unable to pitch upon 
any definite detail that betrayed it. Yet there it was, alive 
and haunting, even distressingly so. All day he had been 



92 STRANGE STORIES 

silent and morose, but since dusk, with the turn of the tide, 
in fact, these queer sentences, half mystical, half unintellig- 
ible, had begun to pour from him, till now that cabin-like 
room among the sand-dunes fairly vibrated with the man's 
emotion. And at last Major Reese, with blundering good 
intention, tried to shift the key from this portentous 
subject of sacrifice to something that might eventually lead 
towards comedy and laughter, and so relieve this growing 
pressure of melancholy and incredible things. The Viking 
fellow had just spoken of the possibility of the old gods 
manifesting themselves visibly, audibly, physically, and so 
the Major caught him up and made light mention of 
spiritualism and the so-called " materialisation seances," 
where physical bodies were alleged to be built up out of the 
emanations of the medium and the sitters. This crude 
aspect of the Supernatural was the only possible link the 
soldier's mind could manage. He caught his brother's eye 
too late, it seems, for Malcolm Reese realised by this time 
that something untoward was afoot, and no longer needed 
the memory of Sinbad's warning to keep him sharply on 
the look-out. It was not the first time he had seen Erric- 
son " caught " by the sea ; but he had never known him 
quite so bad, nor seen his face so flushed and white alter- 
nately, nor his eyes so oddly shining. So that Major 
Reese's well-intentioned allusion only brought wind to fire. 

The man of the sea, once Viking, roared with a rush of 
boisterous laughter at the comic suggestion, then dropped 
his voice to a sudden hard whisper, awfully earnest, awfully 
intense. Any one must have started at the abrupt change 
and the life-and-death manner of the big man. His 
listeners undeniably both did. 

" Bunkum ! " he shouted, " bunkum, and be damned to 
it all! There's only one real materialisation of these 
immense Outer Beings possible, and that's when the great 



THE SEA FIT 



93 



embodied emotions, which are their sphere of action " — 
his words became wildly incoherent, painfully struggling 
to get out—" derived, you see, from their honest wor- 
shippers the world over — constituting their Bodies, in fact — 
come down into matter and get condensed, crystallised into 
form — to claim that final sacrifice I spoke about just now, 
and to which any man might feel himself proud and 
honoured to be summoned. ... No dying in bed or fading 
out from old age, but to plunge full-blooded and alive into 
the great Body of the god who has deigned to descend and 
fetch you " 

The actual speech may have been even more rambling 
and incoherent than that. It came out in a torrent at 
white heat. Dr. Reese kicked his brother beneath the 
table, just in time. The soldier looked thoroughly un- 
comfortable and amazed, utterly at a loss to know how he 
had produced the storm. It rather frightened him. 

" I know it because I've seen it," went on the sea man, 
his mind and speech slightly more under control. " Seen 
the ceremonies that brought these whopping old Nature 
gods down into form — seen 'em carry off a worshipper into 
themselves — seen that worshipper, too, go off singing and 
happy to his death, proud and honoured to be chosen." 

" Have you really — by George ! " the Major exclaimed. 
" You tell us a queer thing, Erricson " ; and it was then for 
the fifth time that Sinbad cautiously opened the door, 
peeped in and silently withdrew after giving a swiftly 
comprehensive glance round the room. 

The night outside was windless and serene, only the 
growing thunder of the tide near the full woke muffled 
echoes among the sand-dunes. 

" Rites and ceremonies," continued the other, his voice 
booming with a singular enthusiasm, but ignoring the 
interruption, " are simply means of losing one's self by 



.94 STRANGE STORIES 

temporary ecstasy in the God of one's choice — the God one 
has worshipped all one's life — of being partially absorbed 
into his being. And sacrifice completes the process " 

" At death, you said ? " asked Malcolm Reese, watching 
him keenly. 

" Or voluntary," was the reply that came flash-like. 
"" The devotee becomes wedded to his Deity — goes bang 
into him, you see, by fire or water or air — as by a drop from 
a height — according to the nature of the particular God ; at- 
one-ment, of course. A man's death that ! Fine, you 
know ! " 

The man's inner soul was on fire now. He was talking 
at a fearful pace, his eyes alight, his voice turned somehow 
into a kind of sing-song that chimed well, singularly well, 
with the booming of waves outside, and from time to time 
he turned to the window to stare at the sea and the moon- 
blanched sands. And then a look of triumph would come 
into his face— that giant face framed by slow-moving 
wreaths of pipe smoke. 

Sinbad entered for the sixth time without any obvious 
purpose, busied himself unnecessarily with the glasses aDd 
went out again, lingeringly. In the room he kept his eye 
hard upon his master. This time he contrived to push a 
•chair and a heap of netting between him and the window. 
JSfo one but Dr. Reese observed the manceuvre. And he 
took the hint. 

" The port-holes fit badly, Erricson," he laughed, but 
with a touch of authority. " There's a five-knot breeze 
coming through the cracks worse than an old wreck ! " 
And he moved up to secure the fastening better. 

" The room is confoundedly cold," Major Reese put in ; 
'" has been for the last half-hour, too." The soldier looked 
what he felt — cold — distressed — creepy. " But there's no 
-wind really, you know," he added. 



THE SEA FIT 95 

Captain Erricson turned his great bearded visage from 
one to the other before he answered ; there was a gleam of 
sudden suspicion in his blue eyes. " The beggar's got that 
back door open again. If he's sent for any one, as he did 
once before, I swear I'll drown him in fresh water for his 
impudence — or perhaps — can it be already that he expects 

? " He left the sentence incomplete and rang the bell, 

laughing with a boisterousness that was clearly feigned. 
" Sinbad, what's this cold in the place ? You've got the 
back door open. Not expecting any one, are you ? " 

" Everything's shut tight, Captain. There's a bit of a 
breeze coming up from the east. And the tide's drawing 
in at a raging pace " 

" We can all hear that. But are you expecting any one ? 
I asked," repeated his master, suspiciously, yet still laugh- 
ing. One might have said he was trying to give the idea 
that the man had some land flirtation on hand. They 
looked one another square in the eye for a moment, these 
two. It was the straight stare of equals who understood 
each other well. 

" Some one — might be — on the way, as it were, Captain. 
Couldn't say for certain." 

The voice almost trembled. By a sharp twist of the eye, 
Sinbad managed to shoot a lightning and significant look at 
the Doctor. 

" But this cold — this freezing, damp cold in the place ? 
Are you sure no one's come — by the back ways ? " insisted 
the master. He whispered it. " Across the dunes, for ' 
instance ? " His voice conveyed awe and delight, both 
kept hard under. 

" It's all over the house, Captain, already," replied the 
man, and moved across to put more sea-logs on the blazing 
fire. Even the soldier noticed then that their language 
was tight with allusion of another kind. To relieve the 



96 STRANGE STORIES 

growing tension and uneasiness in liis own mind he took up 
the word " house " and made fun of it. 

" As though it were a mansion," he observed, with a 
forced chuckle, " instead of a mere sea-shell ! " Then 
looking about him, he added : " But, all the same, you 
know, there is a kind of fog getting into the room — from the 
sea, I suppose ; coming up with the tide, or something, 
eh ? " The air had certainly in the last twenty minutes 
turned thickish ; it was not all tobacco smoke, and there 
was a moisture that began to precipitate on the objects in 
tiny, fine globules. The cold, too, fairly bit. 

" I'll take a look round," said Sinbad, significantly, and 
went out. Only the Doctor perhaps noticed that the man 
shook, and was white down to the gills. He said nothing, 
but moved his chair nearer to the window and to his host. 
It was really a little bit beyond comprehension how the 
wild words of this old sea-dog in the full sway of his " sea 
fit " had altered the very air of the room as well as the 
personal equations of its occupants, for an extraordinary 
atmosphere of enthusiasm that was almost splendour 
pulsed about him, yet vilely close to something that 
suggested terror ! Through the armour of every-day 
common sense that normally clothed the minds of these 
other two, had crept the faint wedges of a mood that made 
them vaguely wonder whether the incredible could perhaps 
sometimes — by way of bewildering exceptions — actually 
come to pass. The moods of their deepest life, that is to 
say, were already affected. An inner, and thoroughly 
unwelcome, change was in progress. And such psychic 
disturbances once started are hard to arrest. In this case 
it was well on the way before either the Army or Medicine 
had been willing to recognise the fact. There was some- 
thing coming — coming from the sand-dunes or the sea. 
And it was invited, welcomed at any rate, by Erricson. 



THE SEA FIT 97 

His deep, volcanic enthusiasm and belief provided the 
channel. In lesser degree they, too, were caught in it. 
Moreover, it was terrific, irresistible. 

And it was at this point — as the comparing of notes 
afterwards established — that Father Norden came in, 
Norden, the big man's nephew, having bicycled over from 
some point beyond Corfe Castle and raced aloDg the hard 
Studland sand in the moonlight, and then hullood till a 
boat had ferried him across the narrow channel of Poole 
Harbour. Sinbad simply brought him in without any 
preliminary question or announcement. He could not 
resist the splendid night and the spring air, explained 
Norden. He felt sure his uncle could ""find a hammock " 
for him somewhere aft, as he put it. He did not add that 
Sinbad had telegraphed for him just before sundown from 
the coast-guard hut. Dr. Reese already knew him, but he 
was introduced to the Major. Norden was a member of the 
Society of Jesus, an ardent, not clever, and unselfish soul. 

Erricson greeted him with obviously mixed feelings, and 
with an extraordinary sentence : " It doesn't really matter," 
he exclaimed, after a few commonplaces of talk, " for all 
religions are the same if you go deep enough. All teach 
sacrifice, and, without exception, all seek final union by 
absorption into their Deity." And then, under his breath, 
turning sideways to peer out of the window, he added a 
swift rush of half-smothered words that only Dr. Reese 
caught : " The Army, the Church, the Medical Profession, 
and Labour — if they would only all come ! What a fine 
result, what a grand offering ! Alone — I seem so unworthy 
— insignificant . . . ! " 

But meanwhile young Norden was speaking before any 
one could stop him, although the Major did make one or 
two blundering attempts. For once the Jesuit's tact was at 
fault. He evidently hoped to introduce a new mood — to 

D* 



98 STRANGE STORIES 

shift the current already established by the single force of 
his own personality. And he was not quite man enough to 
carry it off. 

It was an error of judgment on his part. For the forces 
he found established in the room were too heavy to lift and 
alter, their impetus being already acquired. He did his 
best, anyhow. He began moving with the current — it was 
not the first sea fit he had combated in this extraordinary 
personality — then found, too late, that he was carried along 
with it himself like the rest of them. 

" Odd — but couldn't find the bungalow at first," he 
laughed, somewhat hardly. " It's got a bit of sea-fog all to 
itself that hides it. I thought perhaps my pagan uncle — " 

The Doctor interrupted him hastily, with great energy. 
" The fog does lie caught in these sand hollows — like steam 
in a cup, you know," he put in. But the other, intent on his 
own procedure, missed the cue,. 

" thought it was smoke at first, and that you were 

up to some heathen ceremony or other," laughing in 
Erricson's face ; " sacrificing to the full moon or the sea, 
or the spirits of the desolate places that haunt sand-dunes, 
eh?" 

No one spoke for a second, but Erricson's face turned 
quite radiant. 

" My uncle's such a pagan, you know," continued the 
priest, " that as I flew along those deserted sands from 
■Studland I almost expected to hear old Triton blow his 
wreathed horn ... or see fair Thetis's tinsel-slippered 
feet. . . ." 

Erricson, suppressing violent gestures, highly excited, 
face happy as a boy's, was combing his great yellow beard 
with both hands, and the other two men had begun to 
speak at once, intent on stopping the flow of unwise allusion. 
Norden, swallowing a mouthful of cold soda-water, had put 



THE SEA FIT 99 

the glass down, spluttering over its bubbles, when the 
sound was first heard at the window. And in the back room 
the manservant ran, calling something aloud that sounded 
like " It's coming, God save us, it's coming in . . . ! " 
Though the Major swears some name was mentioned that 
he afterwards forgot — Glaucus — Proteus — Pontus — or some 
such word. The sound itself, however, was plain enough — 
a king of imperious tapping on the window-panes as of a 
multitude of objects. Blown sand it might have been or 
heavy spray or, as Norden suggested later, a great water- 
soaked branch of giant seaweed. Every one started up, 
but Erricson was first upon his feet, and had the window 
wide open in a twinkling. His voice roared forth over 
those moonlit sand-dunes and out towards the line of heavy 
surf ten yards below. 

" All along the shore of the iEgean," he bellowed, with a 
kind of hoarse triumph that shook the heart, " that ancient 
cry once rang. But it was a lie, a thumping and audacious 
lie. And He is not the only one. Another still lives — and, 
by Poseidon, He comes ! He knows His own and His own 
know Him — and His own shall go to meet Him . . . ! " 

That reference to the iEgean " cry ! " It was so wonder- 
ful. Every one, of course, except the soldier, seized the 
allusion. It was a comprehensive, yet subtle, way of 
suggesting the idea. And meanwhile all spoke at once, 
shouted rather, for the Invasion was somehow — monstrous. 

" Damn it — that's a bit too much. Something's caught 
my throat ! " The Major, like a man drowning, fought 
with the furniture in his amazement and dismay. Fighting 
was his first instinct, of course. " Hurts so infernally — 
takes the breath," he cried by way of explaining the 
extraordinarily violent impetus that moved him, yet half 
ashamed of himself for seeing nothing he could strike. But 
Malcolm Reese struggled to get between his host and the 



V 



ioo STRANGE STORIES 

open window, saying in tense voice something like " Don't 
let him get out ! Don't let him get out ! " While the 
shouts of warning from Sinbad in the little cramped back 
offices added to the general confusion. Only Father 
Norden stood quiet — watching with a kind of admiring 
wonder the expression of magnificence that had flamed into 
the visage of Erricson. 

" Hark, you fools ! Hark ! " boomed the Viking figure, 
standing erect and splendid. 

And through that open window, along the far-drawn line 
of shore from Canford Cliffs to the chalk bluffs of Studland 
Bay, there certainly ran a sound that was no common roar 
of surf. It was articulate — a message from the sea — an 
announcement — a thunderous warning of approach. No 
mere surf breaking on sand could have compassed so deep 
and multitudinous a voice of dreadful roaring — far out over 
the entering tide, yet at the same time close in along the 
entire sweep of shore, shaking all the ocean, both depth and 
snrface, with its deep vibrations. Into the bungalow 
chamber came — the Sea*! 

Out of the night, from the moonlit spaces where it had 
been steadily accumulating, into that little cabined room so 
full of humanity and tobacco smoke, came invisibly— the 
Power of the Sea. Invisible, yes, but mighty, pressed 
forward by the huge draw of the moon, soft-coated with 
brine and moisture — the great Sea. And with it, into the 
minds of those three other men, leaped instantaneously, not 
to be denied, overwhelming suggestions of water-power, the 
tear and strain of thousand-mile currents, the irresistible 
pull and rush of tides, the suction of giant whirlpools- — 
more, the massed and awful impetus of whole driven 
oceans. The air turned salt and briny, and a welter of 
seaweed clamped their very skins. 

. " Glaucus ! I come to Thee, great God of the deep 



THE SEA FIT 101 

Waterways. . . . Father and Master ! " Erricson cried aloud 
in a voice that most marvellously conveyed supreme joy. 

The little bungalow trembled as from a blow at the 
foundations, and the same second the big man was through 
the window and running down the moonlit sands towards 
the foam. 

" God in Heaven ! Did you all see that ? " shouted 
Major Reese, for the manner in which the great body slipped 
through the tiny window-frame was incredible. And then, 
first tottering with a sudden weakness, he recovered himself 
and rushed round by the door, followed by his brother. 
Sinbad, invisible, but not inaudible, was calling ak>ud from 
the passage at the back. Father Norden, slimmer than the 
others — well controlled, too — was through the little window 
before either of them reached the fringe of beach beyond 
the sand-dunes. They joined forces halfway down to the 
water's edge. The figure of Erricson, towering in the 
moonlight, flew before them, coasting rapidly along the 
wave-line. 

No one of them said a word ; they tore along side by side, 
Norden a trifle in advance. In front of them, head turned 
seawards, bounded Erricson in great flying leaps, singing 
as he ran, impossible to overtake. 

Then, what they witnessed all three witnessed ; the 
weird grandeur of it in the moonshine was too splendid to 
allow the smaller emotions of personal alarm, it seems 
At any rate, the divergence of opinion afterwards was 
unaccountably insignificant. For, on a sudden, that heavy 
roaring sound far out at sea came close in with a swift 
plunge of speed, followed simultaneously— accompanied, 
rather — by a dark line that was no mere wave moving : 
enormously, up and across, between the sea and sky it 
swept close in to shore. The moonlight caught it for a 
second as it passed, in a cliff of her bright silver. 



102 STRANGE STORIES 

And Erricson slowed down, bowed his great head and 
shoulders, spread his arms out and . . . 

And what ? For no one of those amazed witnesses could 
swear exactly what then came to pass. Upon this im- 
possibility of telling it in language they all three agreed. 
Only those eyeless dunes of sand that watched, only the 
white and silent moon overhead, only that long, curved 
beach of empty and deserted shore retain the complete 
record, to be revealed some day perhaps when a later 
Science shall have learned to develop the photographs that 
Nature takes incessantly upon her secret plates. For 
Erricson's rough suit of tweed went out in ribbons across 
the air ; his figure somehow turned dark like strips of tide- 
sucked seaweed ; something enveloped and overcame him, 
half shrouding him from view. He stood for one instant 
upright, his hair wild in the moonshine, towering with arms 
again outstretched ; then bent forward, turned, drew out 
most curiously sideways, uttering the singing sound of 
tumbling waters. The next instant, curving over like a 
falling wave, he swept along the glistening surface of the 
sands — and was gone. In fluid form, wave-like, his being 
slipped away into the Being of the Sea. A violent tumult 
convulsed the surface of the tide near in, but at once, and 
with amazing speed, passed careering away into the deeper 
water — far out. To his singular death, as to a wedding, 
Erricson had gone, singing, and well content. 

" May God, who holds the sea and all its powers in the 
hollow of His mighty hand, take them both into Himself ! " 
Norden was on his knees, praying fervently. 

The body was never recovered . . . and the most curious 
thing of all was that the interior of the cabin, where they 
found Sinbad shaking with terror when they at length 
returned, was splashed and sprayed, almost soaked, with 



THE SEA FIT 103 

salt water. Up into the bigger dunes beside the bungalow, 
and far beyond the reach of normal tides, lay, too, a great 
streak and furrow as of a large invading wave, caking the 
dry sand. A hundred tufts of the coarse grass tussocks had 
been torn away. 

The high tide that night, drawn by the Easter full moon, 
of course, was known to have been exceptional, for it fairly 
flooded Poole Harbour, flushing all the coves and bays 
towards the mouth of the Frome. And the natives up at 
Arne Bay and Wych always declare that the noise of the sea 
was heard far inland even up to the nine Barrows of the 
Purbeck Hills — triumphantly singing. 

Haven Hotel. 



THE GLAMOUR OF THE SNOW 

I 

HIBBERT, always conscious of two worlds, was in this 
mountain village conscious of three. It lay on the 
slopes of the Valais Alps, and he had taken a room in the 
little post office, where he could be at peace to write his 
book, yet at the same time enjoy the winter sports and find 
companionship in the hotels when he wanted it. 

The three worlds that met and mingled here seemed to his 
imaginative temperament very obvious, though is it doubt- 
ful if another mind less intuitively equipped would have 
seen them so well-defined. There was the world of tourist 
English, civilised, quasi-educated, to which he belonged by 
birth, at any rate; there was the world of peasants to 
which he felt himself drawn by sympathy — for he loved and 
admired their toiling, simple life ; and there was this other 
— which he could only call the world of Nature. To this 
last, however, in virtue of a vehement poetic imagination, 
and a tumultuous pagan instinct fed by his very blood, he 
felt that most of him belonged. The others borrowed from 
it, as it were, for visits. Here, with the soul of Nature, hid 
his central life. 

Between all three was conflict — potential conflict. On 
the skating-rink each Sunday the tourists regarded the 
natives as intruders ; in the church the peasants plainly 
questioned: "Why do you come? We are here to 
worship ; you to stare and whisper ! " For neither of 
these two worlds accepted the other. And neither did 
Nature accept the tourists, for she took advantage of their 

104 



THE GLAMOUR OF THE SNOW 105 

least mistakes, and indeed, even of the peasant-world 
" accepted " only those who were strong and bold enough 
to invade her savage domain with sufficient skill to protect 
themselves from several forms of — death. 

Now Hibbert was keenly aware of this potential conflict 
and want of harmony ; he felt outside, yet caught by it — 
torn in the three directions because he was partly of each 
world, but wholly in only one. There grew in him a 
constant, subtle effort — or, at least, desire — to unify them 
and decide positively to which he should belong and live in. 
The attempt, of course, was largely subconscious. It was 
the natural instinct of a richly imaginative nature seeking 
the point of equilibrium, so that the mind could feel at 
peace and his brain be free to do good work. 

Among the guests no one especially claimed his interest. 
The men were nice but undistinguished — athletic school- 
masters, doctors snatching a holiday, good fellows all ; the 
women, equally various — the clever, the would-be-fast, the 
dare-to-be-dull, the women " who understood," and the 
usual pack of jolly dancing girls and " flappers." And 
Hibbert, with his forty odd years of thick experience 
behind him, got on well with the lot ; he understood them 
all ; they belonged to definite, predigested types that are 
the same the world over, and that he had met the world 
over long ago. 

But to none of them did he belong. His nature was too 
" multiple " to subscribe to the set of shibboleths of any 
one class. And, since all liked him, and felt that somehow 
he seemed outside of them — spectator, looker-on — all 
sought to claim him. 

In a sense, therefore, the three worlds fought for him : 
natives, tourists, Nature. . . . 

It was thus began the singular conflict for the soul of 
Hibbert. In his own soul, however, it took place. Neither 



106 STRANGE STORIES 

the peasants nor the tourists were conscious that they 
fought for anything. And Nature, they say, is merely 
blind and automatic. 

The assault upon him of the peasants may be left out of 
account, for it is obvious that they stood no chance of 
success. The tourist world, however, made a gallant effort 
to subdue him to themselves. But the evenings in the 
hotel, when dancing was not in order, were — English. The 
provincial imagination was set upon a throne and wor- 
shipped heavily through incense of the stupidest con- 
ventions possible. Hibbert used to go back early to his 
room in the post office to work. 

" It is a mistake on my part to have realised that there is 
any conflict at all," he thought, as he crunched home over 
the snow at midnight after one of the dances. " It would 
have been better to have kept outside it all and done my 
work. Better," he added, looking back down the silent 
village street to the church tower, " and — safer." 

The adjective slipped from his mind before he was aware 
of it. He turned with an involuntary start and looked 
about him. He knew perfectly well what it meant — this 
thought that had thrust its head up from the instinctive 
region. He understood, without being able to express it 
fully, the meaning that betrayed itself in the choice of the 
adjective. For if he had ignored the existence of this 
conflict he would at the same time have remained outside 
the arena. Whereas now he had entered the lists. Now 
this battle for his soul must have issue. And he knew that 
the spell of Nature was greater for him than all other spells 
in the world combined — greater than love, revelry, pleasure, 
greater even than study. He had always been afraid to let 
himself go. His pagan soul dreaded her terrific powers of 
witchery even while he worshipped. 

The little village already slept. The world lay smothered 



THE GLAMOUR OF THE SNOW 107 

in snow. The chalet roofs shone white beneath the moon, 
and pitch-black shadows gathered against the walls of the 
church. His eye rested a moment on the square stone 
tower with its frosted cross that pointed to the sky : then 
travelled with a leap of many thousand feet to the enormous 
mountains that brushed the brilliant stars. Like a forest 
rose the huge peaks above the slumbering village, measuring 
the night and heavens. They beckoned him. And 
something born of the snowy desolation, born of the 
midnight and the silent grandeur, born of the great listening 
hollows of the night, something that lay 'twixt terror and 
wonder, dropped from the vast wintry spaces down into his 
heart — and called him. Very softly, unrecorded in any 
word or thought his brain could compass, it laid its spell 
upon him. Fingers of snow brushed the surface of his 
heart. The power and quiet majesty of the winter's night 
appalled him. . . . 

Fumbling a moment with the big unwieldy key, he let 
himself in and went upstairs to bed. Two thoughts went 
with him — apparently quite ordinary and sensible ones : 

" What fools these peasants are to sleep through such a 
night ! " And the other : 

" Those dances tire me. I'll never go again. My work 
only suffers in the morning." The claims of peasants and 
tourists upon him seemed thus in a single instant weakened. 

The clash of battle troubled half his dreams. Nature 
had sent her Beauty of the Night and won the first assault. 
The others, routed and dismayed, fled far away. 

II 

" THXON'T go back to your dreary old post office. We're 
\__J going to have supper in my room — something hot. 
Come and join us. Hurry up ! " 



io8 STRANGE STORIES 

There had been an ice carnival, and the last party, tailing 
up the snow-slope to the hotel, called him. The Chinese 
lanterns smoked and sputtered on the wires ; the band had 
long since gone. The cold was bitter and the moon came 
only momentarily between high, driving clouds. From the 
shed where the people changed from skates to snow-boots he 
shouted something to the effect that he was " following " ; 
but no answer came ; the moving shadows of those who had 
called were already merged high up against the village 
darkness. The voices died away. Doors slammed. Hib- 
bert found himself alone on the deserted rink. 

And it was then, quite suddenly, the impulse came to — 
stay and skate alone. The thought of the stuffy hotel 
room, and of those noisy people with their obvious jokes and 
laughter, oppressed him. He felt a longing to be alone 
with the night, to taste her wonder all by himself there 
beneath the stars, gliding over the ice. It was not yet 
midnight, and he could skate for half an hour. That supper 
party, if they noticed his absence at all, would merely think 
he had changed his mind and gone to bed. 

It was an impulse, yes, and not an unnatural one ; yet 
even at the time it struck him that something more than 
impulse lay concealed behind it. More than invitation, 
yet certainly less than command, there was a vague queer 
feeling that he stayed because he had to, almost as though 
there was something he had forgotten, overlooked, left 
undone. Imaginative temperaments are often thus , and 
impulse is ever weakness. For with such ill-considered 
opening of the doors to hasty action may come an invasion 
of other forces at the same time— forces merely waiting 
their opportunity perhaps ! 

He caught the fugitive warning even while he dismissed 
it as absurd, and the next minute he was whirling over the 
smooth ice in delightful curves and loops beneath the moon. 



THE GLAMOUR OF THE SNOW 109 

There was no fear of collision. He could take his own speed 
and space as he willed. The shadows of the towering 
mountains fell across the rink, and a wind of ice came from 
the forests, where the snow lay ten feet deep. The hotel 
lights winked and went out. The village slept. The high 
wire netting could not keep out the wonder of the winter 
night that grew about him like a presence. He skated on 
and on, keen exhilarating pleasure in his tingling blood, and 
weariness all forgotten. 

And then, midway in the delight of rushing movement, 
he saw a figure gliding behind the wire netting, watching 
him. With a start that almost made him lose his balance — 
for the abruptness of the new arrival was so unlooked for— 
he paused and stared. Although the light was dim he made 
out that it was the figure of a woman and that she was 
feeling her way along the netting, trying to get in. Against 
the white background of the snow-field he watched her 
rather stealthy efforts as she passed with a silent step over 
the banked-up snow. She was tall and slim and graceful ; 
he could see that even in the dark. And then, of course, he 
understood. It was another adventurous skater like 
himself, stolen down unawares from hotel or chalet, and 
searching for the opening. At once, making a sign and 
pointing with one hand, he turned swiftly and skated over 
to the little entrance on the other side. 

But, even before he got there, there was a sound on the 
ice behind him, and with an exclamation of amazement ht 
could not suppress, he turned to see her swerving up to his 
side across the width of the rink. She had somehow found 
another way in. 

Hibbert, as a rule, was punctilious, and in these free-and- 
easy places, perhaps, especially so. If only for his own 
protection he did not seek to make advances unless some 
kind of introduction paved the way. But for these two to 



no STRANGE STORIES 

skate together in the semi-darkness without speech, often of 
necessity brushing shoulders almost was too absurd to 
think of. Accordingly he raised his cap and spoke. His 
actual words he seems unable to recall, nor what the girl 
said in reply, except that she answered him in accented 
English with some commonplace about doing figures at 
midnight on an empty rink. Quite natural it was, and 
right. She wore grey clothes of some kind, though not the 
customary long gloves or sweater, for indeed her hands were 
bare, and presently when he skated with her, he wondered 
with something like astonishment at their dry and icy 
coldness. 

And she was delicious to skate with — supple, sure, and 
light, fast as a man yet with the freedom of a child, sinuous 
and steady at the same time. Her flexibility made him 
wonder, and when he asked where she had learned she 
murmured — he caught the breath against his ear and 
recalled later that it was singularly cold— that she could 
hardly tell, for she had been accustomed to the ice ever 
since she could remember. 

But her face he never properly saw. A muffler of white 
fur buried her neck to the ears, and her cap came over the 
eyes. He only saw that she was young. Nor could he 
gather her hotel or chalet, for she pointed vaguely, when he 
asked her, up the slopes. " Just over there — — " she said, 
quickly taking his hand again. He did not press her ; no 
doubt she wished to hide her escapade. And the touch of 
her hand thrilled him more than anything he could re- 
member ; even through his thick glove he felt the softness 
of that cold and delicate softness. 

The clouds thickened over the mountains. It grew 
darker. They talked very little, and did not always skate 
together. Often they separated, curving about in corners 
by themselves, but always coming together again in the 



THE GLAMOUR OF THE SNOW m 

centre of the rink ; and when she left him thus Hibbert 
was conscious of — yes, of missing her. He found a peculiar 
satisfaction, almost a fascination, in skating by her side. It 
was quite an adventure — these two strangers with the ice 
and snow and night ! 

Midnight had long since sounded from the old church 
tower before they parted. She gave the sign, and he skated 
quickly to the shed, meaning to find a seat and help her take 
her skates off. Yet when he turned — she had already gone. 
He saw her slim figure gliding away across the snow . . . 
and hurrying for the last time round the rink alone be 
searched in vain for the opening she had twice used in this 
curious way. 

" How very queer ! " he thought, referring to the wire 
netting. " She must have lifted it and wriggled under . . !" 

Wondering how in the world she managed it, what in the 
world had possessed him to be so free with her, and who in 
the world she was, he went up the steep slope to the post 
office and so to bed, her promise to come again another 
night still ringing delightfully in his ears. And curious 
were the thoughts and sensations that accompanied him. 
Most of all, perhaps, was the half suggestion of some dim 
memory that he had known this girl before, had met her 
somewhere, more — that she knew him. For in her voice — a 
low, soft, windy little voice it was, tender and soothing for 
all its quiet coldness — there lay some faint reminder of two 
others he had known, both long since gone : the voice of 
the woman he had loved, and — the voice of his mother. 

But this time through his dreams there ran no clash of 
battle. He was conscious, rather, of something cold and 
clinging that made him think of sifting snowflakes climbing 
slowly with entangling touch and thickness round his feet. 
The snow, coming without noise, each flake so light and 
tiny none can mark the spot whereon it settles, yet the 



ii2 STRANGE STORIES 

mass of it able to smother whole villages, wove through the 
very texture of his mind — cold, bewildering, deadening 
effort with its clinging network of ten million feathery 
touches. 



Ill 

IN the morning Hibbert realised he had done, perhaps, a 
foolish thing. The brilliant sunshine that drenched the 
valley made him see this, and the sight of his work-table 
with its typewriter, books, papers, and the rest, brought 
additional conviction. To have skated with a girl alone at 
midnight, no matter how innocently the thing had come 
about, was unwise — unfair, especially to her. Gossip in 
these little winter resorts was worse than in a provincial 
town. He hoped no one had seen them. Luckily the 
night had been dark. Most likely none had heard the ring 
of skates. 

Deciding that in future he would be more careful, he 
plunged into work, and sought to dismiss the matter from 
his mind. 

But in his times of leisure the memory returned per- 
sistently to haunt him. When he " ski-d," " luged," or 
danced in the evenings, and especially when he skated on 
the little rink, he was aware that the eyes of his mind 
forever sought this strange companion of the night. A 
hundred times he fancied that he saw her, but always sight 
deceived him. Her face he might not know, but he could 
hardly fail to recognise her figure. Yet nowhere among the 
others did he catch a glimpse of that slim young creature he 
had skated with alone beneath the clouded stars. He 
searched in vain. Even his inquiries as to the occupants of 
the private chalets brought no results. He had lost her. 



THE GLAMOUR OF THE SNOW 113 

But the queer thing was that he felt as though she were 
somewhere close ; he knew she had not really gone. While 
people came and left with every day, it never once occurred 
to him that she had left. On the contrary, he felt assured 
that they would meet again. 

This thought he never quite acknowledged. Perhaps it 
was the wish that fathered it only. And, even when he did 
meet her, it was a question how he would speak and claim 
acquaintance, or whether she would recognise himself. It 
might be awkward. He almost came to dread a meeting, 
though " dread," of course, was far too strong a word to 
describe an emotion that was half delight, half wondering 
anticipation. 

Meanwhile the season was in full swing. Hibbert felt in 
perfect health, worked bard, ski-d, skated, luged, and at 
night danced fairly often — in spite of his decision. This 
dancing was, however, an act of subconscious surrender ; it 
really meant he hoped to find her among the whirling 
couples. He was searching for her without quite acknow- 
ledging it to himself ; and the hotel-world, meanwhile, 
thinking it had won him over, teased and chaffed him. He 
made excuses in a similar vein ; but all the time he watched 
and searched and — waited. 

For several days the sky held clear and bright and frosty, 
bitterly cold, everything crisp and sparkling in the sun ; 
but there was no sign of fresh snow, and the ski-ers began to 
grumble. On the mountains was an icy crust that made 
" running " dangerous ; they wanted the frozen, dry, and 
powdery snow that makes for speed, renders steering easier 
and falling less severe. But the keen east wind showed no 
signs of changing for a whole ten days. Then, suddenly, 
there came a touch of softer air and the weather-wise began 
to prophesy. 

Hibbert, who was delicately sensitive to the least change 



ii4 STRANGE STORIES 

in earth or sky, was perhaps the first to feel it. Only he did 
not prophesy. He knew through every nerve in his body 
that moisture had crept into the air, was accumulating, 
and that presently a fall would come. For he responded to 
the moods of Nature like a fine barometer. 

And the knowledge, this time, brought into his heart a 
strange little wayward emotion that was hard to account 
for — a feeling of unexplained uneasiness and disquieting 
joy. For behind it, woven through it rather, ran a faint 
exhilaration that connected remotely somewhere with that 
touch of delicious alarm, that tiny anticipating " dread," 
that so puzzled him when he thought of his next meeting 
with his skating companion of the night. It lay beyond all 
words, all telling, this queer relationship between the two ; 
but somehow the girl and snow ran in a pair across his mind. 

Perhaps for imaginative writing-men, more than for 
other workers, the smallest change of mood betrays itself at 
once. His work at any rate revealed this slight shifting of 
emotional values in his soul. Not that his writing suffered, 
but that it altered, subtly as those changes of sky or sea or 
landscape that come with the passing of afternoon into 
evening — imperceptibly. A subconscious excitement 
sought to push outwards and express itself . . . and, 
knowing the uneven effect such moods produced in his work, 
he laid his pen aside and took instead to reading that he had 
to do. 

Meanwhile the brilliance passed from the sunshine, the 
sky grew slowly overcast ; by dusk the mountain tops came 
singularly close and sharp ; the distant valley rose into 
absurdly near perspective. The moisture increased, rapidly 
approaching saturation point, when it must fall in snow. 
Hibbert watched and waited. 

And in the morning the world lay smothered beneath its 
fresh white carpet. It snowed heavily till noon, thickly, 



THE GLAMOUR OF THE SNOW 115 

incessantly, chokingly, a foot or more; then the sky 
cleared, the sun came out in splendour, the wind shifted 
back to the east, and frost came down upon the mountains 
with its keenest and most biting tooth. The drop in the 
temperature was tremendous, but the ski-ers were jubilant. 
Next day the "running" would be fast and perfect. 
Already the mass was settling, and the surface freezing 
into those moss-like, powdery crystals that make the ski run 
almost of their own accord with the faint " sishing " as of a 
bird's wings through the air. 



IV 

THAT night there was excitement in the little hotel- 
world, first because there was a bal costume, but chiefly 
because the new snow had come. And Hibbert went — felt 
drawn to go ; he did not go in costume, but he wanted to 
talk about the slopes and ski-ing with the other men, and at 
the same time. . . . 

Ah, there was the truth, the deeper necessity that called. 
For the singular connection between the stranger and the 
snow again betrayed itself, utterly beyond explanation as 
before, but vital and insistent. Some hidden instinct in his 
pagan soul — heaven knows how he phrased it even to 
himself, if he phrased it at all— whispered that with the 
snow the girl would be somewhere about, would emerge 
from her hiding place, would even look for him. 

Absolutely unwarranted it was. He laughed while he 
stood before the little glass and trimmed his moustache, 
tried to make his black tie sit straight, and shook down his 
dinner jacket so that it should lie upon the shoulders without 
a crease. His brown eyes were very bright. " I look 



n6 STRANGE STORIES 

younger than I usually do," he thought. It was unusual, 
even significant, in a man who had no vanity about his 
appearance and certainly never questioned his age or tried 
to look younger than he was. Affairs of the heart, with one 
tumultuous exception that left no fuel for lesser subsequent 
fires, had never troubled him. The forces of his soul and 
mind not called upon for " work " and obvious duties, all 
went to Nature. The desolate, wild places of the earth 
were what he loved ; night, and the beauty of the stars and 
snow. And this evening he felt their claims upon him 
mightily stirring. A rising wildness caught his blood, 
quickened his pulse, woke longing and passion too. But 
chiefly snow. The snow whirred softly through his thoughts 
like white, seductive dreams. .-. . For the snow had come ; 
and She, it seemed, had somehow come with it — into his 
mind. 

And yet he stood before that twisted mirror and pulled his 
tie and coat askew a dozen times, as though it mattered. 
" What in the world is up with me ? " he thought. Then, 
laughing a little, he turned before leaving the room to put 
his private papers in order. The green morocco desk that 
held them he took down from the shelf and laid upon the 
table. Tied to the lid was the visiting card with his 
brother's London address " in case of accident." On the 
way down to the hotel he wondered why he had done this, 
for though imaginative, he was not the kind of man who 
dealt in presentiments. Moods with him were strong, but 
ever held in leash. 

" It's almost like a warning," he thought, smiling. He 
drew his thick coat tightly round the throat as the freezing 
air bit at him. " Those warnings one reads of in stories 
sometimes . . . ! " 

A delicious happiness was in his blood. Over the edge of 
the hills across the valley rose the moon. He saw her silver 



THE GLAMOUR OF THE SNOW 117 

sheet the world of snow Snow covered all. It smothered 
sound and distance. It smothered houses, streets, and 
human beings. It smothered life. 



V 

IN the hall there was light and bustle ; people were 
already arriving from the other hotels and chalets, their 
costumes hidden beneath many wraps. Groups of men in 
evening dress stood about smoking, talking " snow " and 
" ski-ing." The band was tuning up. The claims of the 
hotel-world clashed about him faintly as of old. At the big 
glass windows of the veranda, peasants stopped a moment 
on their way home from the cafe to peer. Hibbert thought 
laughingly of that conflict he used to imagine. He laughed 
because it suddenly seemed so unreal. He belonged so 
utterly to Nature and the mountains, and especially to 
those desolate slopes where now the snow lay thick and 
fresh and sweet, that there was no question of a conflict at 
all. The power of the newly fallen snow had caught him, 
proving it without effort. Out there, upon those lonely 
reaches of the moonlit ridges, the snow lay ready — masses 
and masses of it — cool, soft, inviting. He longed for it. It 
awaited him. He thought of the intoxicating delight of 
ski-ing in the moonlight. . . . 

Thus, somehow, in vivid flashing vision, he thought of it 
while he stood there smoking with the other men and 
talking all the " shop " of ski-ing. 

And, ever mysteriously blended with this power of the 
snow, poured also through his inner being the power of the 
girl. He could not disabuse his mind of the insinuating 
presence of the two together. He remembered that queer 



n8 STRANGE STORIES 

skating-impulse of ten days ago, the impulse that had let 
her in. That any mind, even an imaginative one, could 
pass beneath the sway of such a fancy was strange enough ; 
and Hibbert, while fully aware of the disorder, yet found a 
curious joy in yielding to it. This insubordinate centre 
that drew him towards old pagan beliefs had assumed 
command. With a kind of sensuous pleasure he let himself 
be conquered. 

And snow that night seemed in everybody's thoughts. 
The dancing couples talked of it ; the hotel proprietors 
congratulated one another ; it meant good sport and 
satisfied their guests ; every one was planning trips and 
expeditions, talking of slopes and telemarks, of flying speed 
and distance, of drifts and crust and frost. Vitality and 
enthusiasm pulsed in the very air ; all were alert and active, 
positive, radiating currents of creative life even into the 
stuffy atmosphere of that crowded ball-room. And the 
snow had caused it, the snow had brought it ; all this 
discharge of eager sparkling energy was due primarily to 
the — Snow. 

But in the mind of Hibbert, by some swift alchemy of his 
pagan yearnings, this energy became transmuted. It 
rarefied itself, gleaming in white and crystal currents of 
passionate anticipation, which he transferred, as by a 
species of electrical imagination, into the personality of the 
girl — the Girl of the Snow. She somewhere was waiting for 
him, expecting him, calling to him softly from those leagues 
of moonlit mountain. He remembered the touch of that 
cool, dry hand ; the soft and icy breath against his cheek ; 
the hush and softness of her presence in the way she came 
and the way she had gone again — like a flurry of snow the 
wind sent gliding up the slopes. She, like himself, belonged 
out there. He fancied that he heard her little windy 
voice come sifting to him through the snowy branches of 



THE GLAMOUR OF THE SNOW 119 

the trees, calling his name . . . that haunting little voice 
that dived straight to the centre of his life as once, long 
years ago, two other voices used to do. . . . 

But nowhere among the costumed dancers did he see her 
slender figure. He danced with one and all, distrait and 
absent, a stupid partner as each girl discovered, his eyes 
ever turning towards the door and windows, hoping to 
catch the luring face, the vision that did not come . . . and 
at length, hoping even against hope. For the ball-room 
thinned ; groups left one by one, going home to their hotels 
and chalets ; the band tired obviously ; people sat drinking 
lemon-squashes at the little tables, the men mopping their 
foreheads, everybody ready for bed. 

It was close on midnight. As Hibbert passed through 
the hall to get his overcoat and snow-boots, he saw men in 
the passage by the " sport-room," greasing their ski 
against an early start. Knapsack luncheons were being 
ordered by the kitchen swing doors. He sighed. Lighting 
a cigarette a friend offered him, he returned a confused reply 
to some question as to whether he could join their party in 
the morning. It seemed he did not hear it properly. He 
passed through the outer vestibule between the double glass 
doors, and went into the night. 

The man who asked the question watched him go, an 
expression of anxiety momentarily in his eyes. 

" Don't think he heard you," said another, laughing. 
" You've got to shout to Hibbert, his mind's so full of his 
work." 

" He works too hard," suggested the first, " full of queer 
ideas and dreams." 

But Hibbert's silence was not rudeness. He had not 
caught the invitation, that was all . The call of the hotel 
world had faded. He no longer heard it. Another wilder 
call was sounding in his ears. 



120 STRANGE STORIES 

For up the street he had seen a little figure moving. 
Close against the shadows of the baker's shop it glided — 
white, slim, enticing. 



VI 

AND at once into his mind passed the hush and softness 
of the snow — yet with it a searching, crying wildness 
for the heights. He knew by some incalculable, swift 
instinct she would not meet him in the village street. It 
was not there, amid crowding houses, she would speak to 
him. Indeed, already she had disappeared, melted from 
view up the white vista of the moonlit road. Yonder, he 
divined, she waited where the highway narrowed abruptly 
into the mountain path beyond the chalets. 

It did not even occur to him to hesitate ; mad though it 
seemed, and was — this sudden craving for the heights with 
her, at least for open spaces where the snow lay thick and 
fresh — it was too imperious to be denied. He does not 
remember going up to his room, putting the sweater over 
his evening clothes, and getting into the fur gauntlet gloves 
and the helmet cap of wool. Most certainly he has no 
recollection of fastening on his ski ; he must have done it 
automatically. Some faculty of normal observation was 
in abeyance, as it were. His mind was out beyond the 
village — out with the snowy mountains and the moon. 

Henri D6fago, putting up the shutters over his cafe 
windows, saw him pass, and wondered mildly : " Un 
monsieur qui fait du ski a cette heure ! II est Anglais, 
done . . . ! " He shrugged his shoulders, as though a 
man had the right to choose his own way of death. And 
Marthe Perotti, the hunchback wife of the shoemaker, 
looking by chance from her window, caught his figure 



THE GLAMOUR OF THE SNOW 121 

moving swiftly up the road. She had other thoughts, for 
she knew and believed the old traditions of the witches and 
snow-beings that steal the souls of men. She had even 
heard, 'twas said, the dreaded " synagogue " pass roaring 
down the street at night, and now, as then, she hid her eyes. 
" They've called to him . . . and he must go," she mur- 
mured, making the sign of the cross. 

But no one sought to stop him. Hibbert recalls only a 
single incident until he found himself beyond the houses, 
searching for her along the fringe of forest where the 
moonlight met the snow in a bewildering frieze of fantastic 
shadows. And the incident was simply this — that he 
remembered passing the church. Catching the outline of 
its tower against the stars, he was aware of a faint sense of 
hesitation. A vague uneasiness came and went — jarred 
unpleasantly across the flow of his excited feelings, chilling 
exhilaration. He caught the instant's discord, dismissed 
it, and — passed on. The seduction of the snow smothered 
the hint before he realised that it had brushed the skirts of 
warning. 

And then he saw her. She stood there waiting in a little 
clear space of shining snow, dressed all in white, part of the 
moonlight and the glistening background, her slender 
figure just discernible. 

" I waited, for I knew you would come," the silvery little 
voice of windy beauty floated down to him. " You had to 
come." 

" I'm ready," he answered, " I knew it too." 

The world of Nature caught him to its heart in those few 
words — the wonder and the glory of the night and snow. 
Life leaped within him. The passion of his pagan soul 
exulted, rose in joy, flowed out to her. He neither reflected 
nor considered, but let himself go like the veriest schoolboy 
in the wildness of first love. 

E 



122 STRANGE STORIES 

" Give me your hand," he cried, " I'm coming . . . ! " 

" A little farther on, a little higher," came her delicious 
answer. " Here it is too near the village — and the church." 

And the words seemed wholly right and natural ; he did 
not dream of questioning them ; he understood that, with 
this little touch of civilisation in sight, the familiarity he 
suggested was impossible. Once out upon the open 
mountains, 'mid the freedom of huge slopes and towering 
peaks, the stars and moon to witness and the wilderness of 
snow to watch, they could taste an innocence of happy 
intercourse free from the dead conventions that imprison 
literal minds. 

He urged his pace, yet did not quite overtake her. The 
girl kept always just a little bit ahead of his best efforts. 
. . . And soon they left the trees behind and passed on to 
the enormous slopes of the sea of snow that rolled in 
mountainous terror and beauty to the stars. The wonder 
of the white world caught him away. Under the steady 
moonlight it was more than haunting. It was a living, 
white, bewildering power that deliciously confused the 
senses and laid a spelf of wild perplexity upon the heart. It 
was a personality that cloaked, and yet revealed, itself 
through all this sheeted whiteness of snow. It rose, went 
with him, fled before, and followed after. Slowly it dropped 
lithe, gleaming arms about his neck, gathering him in. . . . 

Certainly some soft persuasion coaxed his very soul, 
urging him ever forwards, upwards, on towards the higher 
icy slopes. Judgment and reason left their throne, it 
seemed, completely, as in the madness of intoxication. 
The girl, slim and seductive, kept always just ahead, so that 
he never quite came up with her. He saw the white 
.enchantment of her face and figure, something that streamed 
about her neck flying like a wreath of snow in the wind, and 
heard the alluring accents of her whispering voice that 



THE GLAMOUR OF THE SNOW 123 

called from time to time : " A little farther on, a little 
higher. . . . Then we'll run home together ! " 

Sometimes he saw her hand stretched out to find his own, 
but each time, just as he came up with her, he saw her still 
in front, the hand and arm withdrawn. They took a 
gentle angle of ascent. The toil seemed nothing. In this 
crystal, wine-like air fatigue vanished. The sishing of the 
ski through the powdery surface of the snow was the only 
sound that broke the stillness ; this, with his breathing and 
the rustle of her skirts, was all he heard. Cold moonshine, 
snow, and silence held the world. The sky was black, and 
the peaks beyond cut into it like frosted wedges of iron and 
steel. Far below the valley slept, the village long since 
hidden out of sight. He felt that he could never tire. . . . 
The sound of the church clock rose from time to time faintly 
through the air — more and more distant. 

" Give me your hand. It's time now to turn back." 

" Just one more slope," she laughed. " That ridge 
above us. Then we'll make for home." And her low 
voice mingled pleasantly with the purring of their ski. His 
own seemed harsh and ugly by comparison. 

" But I have never come so high before. It's glorious 1 
This world of silent snow and moonlight — and you. You're 
a child of the snow, I swear. Let me come up — closer — to 
see your face — and touch your little hand." 

Her laughter answered him. 

" Come on .' A little higher. Here we're quite alone 
together." 

" It's magnificent," he cried. " But why did you hide 
away so long ? I've looked and searched for you in vain 

ever since we skated " he was going to say " ten days 

ago," but the accurate memory of time had gone from him ; 
he was not sure whether it was days or years or minutes. 
His thoughts of earth were scattered and confused. 



124 STRANGE STORIES 

" You looked for me in the wrong places," he heard her 
murmur just above him. " You looked in places where I 
never go. Hotels and houses kill me. I avoid them." She 
laughed — a fine, shrill, windy little laugh. 

" I loathe them too " 

He stopped. The girl had suddenly come quite close. A 
breath of ice passed through his very soul. She had 
touched him. 

" But this awful cold ! " he cried out, sharply, " this 
freezing cold that takes me. The wind is rising ; it's a 
wind of ice. Come, let us turn . . . ! " 

But when he plunged forward to hold her, or at least to 
look, the girl was gone again. And something in the way 
she stood there a few feet beyond, and stared down into his 
eyes so steadfastly in silence, made him shiver. The 
moonlight was behind her, but in some odd way he could not 
focus sight upon her face, although so close. The gleam of 
eyes he caught, but all the rest seemed white and snowy as 
though he looked beyond her — out into space. . . . 

The sound of the church bell came up faintly from the 
valley far below, and he counted the strokes — five. A 
sudden, curious weakness seized him as he listened. Deep 
within it was, deadly yet somehow sweet, and hard to resist. 
He felt like sinking down upon the snow and lying there. 
. . . They had been climbing for five hours. ... It was, of 
course, the warning of complete exhaustion. 

With a great effort he fought and overcame it. It passed 
away as suddenly as it came. 

" We'll turn," he said with a decision he hardly felt. " It 
will be dawn before we reach the village again. Come at 
once. It's time for home." 

The sense of exhilaration had utterly left him. An 
emotion that was akin to fear swept coldly through him. 
But her whispering answer turned it instantly to terror — a 



THE GLAMOUR OF THE SNOW 125 

terror that gripped him horribly and turned him weak and 
unresisting. 

" Our home is— here ! " A burst of wild, high laughter, 
loud and shrill, accompanied the words. It was like a 
whistling wind. The wind had risen, and clouds obscured 
the moon. "A little higher — where we cannot hear the 
wicked bells," she cried, and for the first time seized him 
deliberately by the hand. She moved, was suddenly close 
against his face. Again she touched him. 

And Hibbert tried to turn away in escape, and so trying, 
found for the first time that the power of the snow — that 
other power which does not exhilarate but deadens effort — 
was upon him. The suffocating weakness that it brings to 
exhausted men, luring them to the sleep of death in her 
clinging soft embrace, lulling the will and conquering all 
desire for life— this was awfully upon him. His feet were 
heavy and entangled. He could not turn or move. 

The girl stood in front of him, very near ; he felt her 
chilly breath upon his cheeks ; her hair passed blindingly 
across his eyes ; and that icy wind came with her. He saw 
her whiteness close ; again, it seemed, his sight passed 
through her into space as though she had no face. Her 
arms were round his neck. She drew him softly downwards 
to his knees. He sank ; he yielded utterly ; he obeyed. 
Her weight was upon him, smothering, delicious. The 
snow was to his waist. . . . She kissed him softly on the lips, 
the eyes, all over his face. And then she spoke his name in 
that voice of love and wonder, the voice that held the 
accent of two others — both taken over long ago by 
Death — the voice of his mother, and of the woman he 
had loved. 

He made one more feeble effort to resist. Then, realising 
even while he struggled that this soft weight about his heart 
was sweeter than anything life could ever bring, he let his 



iz6 STRANGE STORIES 

muscles relax, and sank back into the soft oblivion of the 
covering snow. Her wintry kisses bore him into sleep. 



VII 

THEY say that men who know the sleep of exhaustion 
in the snow find no awakening on the hither side of 
death. . . . The hours passed and the moon sank down 
below the white world's rim. Then, suddenly, there came a 
little crash upon his breast and neck, and Hibbert — woke. 

He slowly turned bewildered, heavy eyes upon the 
desolate mountains, stared dizzily about him, tried to rise. 
At first his muscles would not act ; a numbing, aching pain 
possessed him. He uttered a long, thin cry for help, and 
heard its faintness swallowed by the wind. And then he 
understood vaguely why he was only warm — not dead. 
For this very wind that took his cry had built up a sheltering 
mound of driven snow against his body while he slept. Like 
a curving wave it ran beside him. It was the breaking of 
its over-toppling edge that caused the crash, and the cold- 
ness of the mass against his neck that woke him. 

Dawn kissed the eastern sky ; pale gleams of gold shot 
every peak with splendour ; but ice was in the air, and the' 
dry and frozen snow blew like powder from the surface of the 
slopes. He saw the points of his ski projecting just below 
him. Then he — remembered. It seems he had just 
strength enough to realise that, could he but rise and stand, 
he might fly with terrific impetus towards the woods and 
village far beneath. The ski would carry him. But if he 
failed and fell . . . ! 

How he contrived it Hibbert never knew ; this fear of 
death somehow called out his whole available reserve force. 



THE GLAMOUR OF THE SNOW 127 

He rose slowly, balanced a moment, then, taking the angle 
of an immense zigzag, started down the awful slopes like an 
arrow from a bow. And automatically the splendid muscles 
of the practised ski-er and athletic saved and guided him, 
for he was hardly conscious of controlling either speed or 
direction. The snow stung face and eyes like fine steel 
shot ; ridge after ridge flew past ; the summits raced 
across the sky ; the valley leaped up with bounds to meet 
him. He scarcely felt the ground beneath his feet as the 
huge slopes and distance melted before the lightning speed 
of that descent from death to life. 

He took it in four mile-long zigzags, and it was the turning 
at each corner that nearly finished him, for then the strain 
of balancing taxed to the verge of collapse the remnants of 
his strength. 

Slopes that have taken hours to climb can be descended in 
a short half-hour on ski, but Hibbert had lost all count of 
time. Quite other thoughts and feelings mastered him in 
that wild, swift dropping through the air that was like the 
flight of a bird. For ever close upon his heels came follow- 
ing forms and voices with the whirling snow-dust. He 
heard that little silvery voice of death and laughter at his 
back. Shrill and wild, with the whistling of the wind past 
his ears, he caught its pursuing tones ; but in anger now, no 
longer soft and coaxing. And it was accompanied ; she 
did not follow alone. It seemed a host of these flying 
figures of the snow chased madly just behind him. He felt 
them furiously smite his neck and cheeks, snatch at his 
hands and try to entangle his feet and ski in drifts. His 
eyes they blinded, and they caught his breath away. 

The terror of the heights and snow and winter desolation 
urged him forward in the maddest race with death a human 
being ever knew ; and so terrific was the speed that before 
the gold and crimson had left the summits to touch the ice- 



128 STRANGE STORIES 

lips of the lower glaciers, he saw the friendly forest far 
beneath swing up and welcome him. 

And it was then, moving slowly along the edge of the 
woods, he saw a light. A man was carrying it. A pro- 
cession of human figures was passing in a dark line labour- 
iously through the snow. And — he heard the sound of 
chanting. 

Instinctively, without a second's hesitation, he changed 
his course. No longer flying at an angle as before, he 
pointed his ski straight down the mountain-side. The 
dreadful steepness did not frighten him. He knew full 
well it meant a crashing tumble at the bottom, but he also 
knew it meant a doubling of his speed — with safety at the 
end. For, though no definite thought passed through his 
mind, he understood that it was the village cure who carried 
that little gleaming lantern in the dawn, and that he was 
taking the Host to a chalet on the lower slopes — to some 
peasant in extremis. He remembered her terror of the 
church and bells. She feared the holy symbols. 

There was one last wild cry in his ears as he started, a 
shriek of the wind before his face, and a rush of stinging 
snow against closed eyelids — and then he dropped through 
empty space. Speed took sight from him. It seemed he 
flew off the surface of the world. 



Indistinctly he recalls the murmur of men's voices, the 
touch of strong arms that lifted him, and the shooting pains 
as the ski were unfastened from the twisted ankle ... for 
when he opened his eyes again to normal life he found 
himself lying in his bed at the post office with the doctor at 
his side. But for years to come the story of " mad Hib- 
bert's " ski-ing at night is recounted in that mountain 
village. He went, it seems, up slopes, and to a height that 



THE GLAMOUR OF THE SNOW 129 

no man in his senses ever tried before. The tourists were 
agog about it for the rest of the season, and the very same 
day two of the bolder men went over the actual ground and 
photographed the slopes. Later Hibbert saw . these 
photographs. He noticed one curious thing about them — 
though he did not mention it to any one : 
There was only a single track. 

Champery. 



THE TRYST 

AS he got out of the train at the little wayside station he 
remembered the conversation as if it had been yesterday 
instead of fifteen years ago — and his heart went thumping 
against his ribs so violently that he almost heard it. The 
original thrill came over him again with all its infinite 
yearning. He felt it as he had felt it then — not with that 
tragic lessening the interval had brought to each repetition 
of its memory. Here, in the familiar scenery of its birth, he 
realised with mingled pain and wonder that the subsequent 
years had not destroyed, but only dimmed it. The for- 
gotten rapture flamed back with all the fierce beauty of its 
genesis, desire at white heat. And the shock of the abrupt 
discovery shattered time. Fifteen years became a negligible 
moment ; the crowded experiences that had intervened 
seemed but a dream. The farewell scene, the conversation 
on the steamer's deck, were clear as of the day before. He 
saw the hand holding her big hat that fluttered in the wind, 
saw the flowers on the dress where the long coat was blown 
open a moment, recalled the face of a hurrying steward who 
had jostled them ; he even heard the voices — his own and 
hers. 

" Yes," she said simply ; " I promise you. You have 
my word. I'll wait " 

" Till I come back," he interrupted. 

Steadfastly she repeated his actual words, then added : 
" Here ; at home — that is." 

" I'll come to the garden gate as usual," he told her, 
trying to smile. " I'll knock. You'll open the gate — as 
usual — and come out to me." 

150 



THE TRYST 131 

These words too, she attempted to repeat, but her voice 
failed, her eyes filled suddenly with tears ; she looked into 
his face and smiled. It was just then that her little hand 
went up to hold the hat on — he saw the very gesture still. 
He remembered that he was vehemently tempted to tear his 
ticket up there and then, to go ashore with her, to stay in 
England, to brave all opposition — when the siren roared its 
third horrible warning . . . and the ship put out to sea. 

Fifteen years, thick with various incident, had passed 
between them since that moment. His life had risen, fallen, 
crashed, then risen again. He had come back at last, 
fortune won by a lucky coup — at thirty-five ; had come 
back to find her, come back, above all, to keep his word. 
Once every three months they had exchanged the brief 
letter agreed upon : " I am well ; I am waiting ; I am 

happy ; I am unmarried. Yours ." For his youthful 

wisdom had insisted that no " man " had the right to keep 
" any woman " too long waiting ; and she, thinking that 
letter brave and splendid, had insisted likewise that he was 
free — if freedom called him. They had laughed over this 
last phrase in their agreement. They put five years as the 
possible limit of separation. By then he would have won 
success, and obstinate parents would have nothing more to 
say. 

But when the five years ended he was " on his uppers " in 
a western mining town, and with the end of ten in sight those 
uppers, though changed, were little better, apparently, than 
patched and mended. It was just then, too, that the 
change which had been stealing over him first betrayed it- 
self. He realised it abruptly, a sense of shame and horror 
in him. The discovery was made unconsciously : it 
disclosed itself. He was reading her letter as a labourer on 
a Californian fruit farm : " Funny she doesn't marry — 
someone else ! " he heard himself say. The words were out 



132 STRANGE STORIES 

before he knew it, and certainly before he could suppress 
them. They just slipped out, startling him into the truth ; 
and he knew instantly that the thought was fathered in 
him by a hidden wish. ... He was older. He had lived. 
It was a memory he loved. 

Despising himself in a contradictory fashion — both 
vaguely and fiercely — he yet held true to his boyhood's 
promise. He did not write and offer to release her as he 
knew they did in stories ; he persuaded himself that he 
meant to keep his word. There was this fine, stupid, 
selfish obstinacy in his character. In any case, she would 
misunderstand and think he wanted to set free — himself. 
" Besides — I'm still — awfully fond of her," he asserted. 
And it was true ; only the love, it seemed, had gone its way. 
Not that another woman took it ; he kept himself clean, 
held firm as steel. The love, apparently, just faded of its 
own accord ; her image dimmed, her letters had ceased to 
thrill, then ceased to interest him. 

Subsequent reflection made him realise other details 
about himself. In the interval he had suffered hardships, 
had learned the uncertainty of life that depends for its 
continuance on a little food, but that food often hard to 
come by, and had seen so many others go under that he 
held it more cheaply than of old. The wandering instinct, 
too, had caught him, slowly killing the domestic impulse ; 
he lost his desire for a settled place of abode, the desire for 
children of his own, lost the desire to marry at all. Also — 
he reminded himself with a smile — he had lost other things : 
the expression of youth she was accustomed to and held 
always in her thoughts of him, two fingers of one hand, his 
hair ! He wore glasses, too. The gentlemen-adventurers 
of life get scarred in those wild places where he lived. He 
saw himself a rather battered specimen well on the way to 
middle age. 



THE TRYST 133 

There was confusion in his mind, however, and in his 
heart ; a struggling complex of emotions that made it 
difficult to know exactly what he did feel. The dominant 
clue concealed itself. Feelings shifted. A single, clear 
determinant did not offer. He was an honest fellow. " I 
can't quite make it out," he said. " What is it I really 
feel ? And why ? " His motive seemed obscured. To 
keep the flame alight for ten long buffeting years was no 
small achievement ; better men had succumbed in half the 
time. Yet something in him still held fast to the girl as 
with a band of steel that would not let her go entirely. 
Occasionally there came strong reversions, when he ached 
with longing, yearning, hope ; when he loved her again ; 
remembered passionately each detail of the far-off courtship 
days in the forbidden rectory garden beyond the small, 
white garden gate. Or was it merely the image and the 
memory he loved " again ? " He hardly knew himself. 
He could not tell. That " again " puzzled him. It was the 
wrong word surely. . . . He still wrote the promised letter, 
however ; it was so easy ; those short sentences could not 
betray the dead or dying fires. One day, besides, he would 
return and claim her. He meant to keep his word. 

And he had kept it. Here he was, this calm September 
afternoon, within three miles of the village where he first 
had kissed her, where the marvel of first love had come to 
both ; three short miles between him and the little white 
garden gate of which at this very moment she was intently 
thinking, and behind which some fifty minutes later she 
would be standing, waiting for him. . . . 

He had purposely left the train at an earlier station ; he 
would walk the three miles in the dusk, climb the familiar 
steps, knock at the white gate in the wall as of old, utter the 
promised words, " I have come back to find you," enter, 
and— keep his word. He had written from Mexico a week 



134 STRANGE STORIES 

before he sailed ; he had made careful, even accurate 
calculations : " In the dusk, on the sixteenth of September, 
I shall come and knock," he added to the usual sentences. 
The knowledge of his coming, therefore, had been in her 
possession seven days. Just before sailing, moreover, he 
had heard from her — though not in answer, naturally. 
She was well ; she was happy ; she was unmarried ; she 
was waiting. 

And now, as by some magical process of restoration — 
possible to deep hearts only, perhaps, though even to them 
quite inexplicable — the state of first love had blazed up 
again in him. In all its radiant beauty it lit his heart, 
burned unextinguished in his soul, set body and mind on 
fire. The years had merely veiled it. It burst upon him, 
captured, overwhelmed him with the suddenness of a 
dream. He stepped from the train. He met it in the 
face. It took him prisoner. The familiar trees and hedges, 
the unchanged countryside, the " field-smells known in 
infancy," all these, with something subtly added to them, 
rolled back the passion of his youth upon him in a flood. 
No longer was he bound upon what he deemed, perhaps, an 
act of honourable duty ; it was love that drove him, as it 
drove him fifteen years before. And it drove him with the 
accumulated passion of desire long forcibly repressed ; 
almost as if, out of some fancied notion of fairness to the 
girl, he had deliberately, yet still unconsciously, said " No " 
to it ; that she had not faded, but that he had decided, " / 
must forget her." That sentence : " Why doesn't she 
marry — someone else ? " had not betrayed change in 
himself. It surprised another motive : " It's not fair to — 
her ! " 

His mind worked with a curious rapidity, but worked 
within one circle only. The stress of sudden emotion was 
extraordinary. He remembered a thousand things ; yet, 



THE TRYST 135 

chief among them, those occasional reversions when he had 
felt he " loved her again." Had he not, after all, deceived 
himself ? Had she ever really " faded " at all ? Had he 
not felt he ought to let her fade — release her that way ? 
And the change in himself ? — that sentence on the Cali- 
fornian fruit-farm — what did they mean ? Which had 
been true, the fading or the love ? 

The confusion in his mind was hopeless, but, as a matter 
of fact, he did not think at all : he only felt. The momen- 
tum, besides, was irresistible, and before the shattering 
onset of the sweet revival he did not stop to analyse the 
strange result. He knew certain things, and cared to 
know no others : that his heart was leaping, his blood 
running with the heat of twenty, that joy recaptured him, 
that he must see, hear, touch her, hold her in his arms — and 
marry her. For the fifteen years had crumbled to a little 
thing, and at thirty-five he felt himself but twenty, raptur- 
ously, deliciously in love. 

He went quickly, eagerly, down the little street to the inn, 
still feeling only, not thinking anything. The vehement 
uprush of the old emotion made reflection of any kind 
impossible. He gave no further thought to those long 
years " out there," when her name, her letters, the very 
image of her in his mind had found him, if not cold, at least 
without keen response. All that was forgotten as though 
it had not been. The steadfast thing in him, this strong 
holding to a promise which had never wilted, ousted the 
recollection of fading and decay that, whatever caused 
them, certainly had existed. And this steadfast thing now 
took command. This enduring quality in his character led 
him. It was only towards the end of the hurried tea he 
first received the singular impression — vague, indeed, but 
undeniably persistent — that he was being led. 

Yet, though aware of this, he did not pause to argue or 



136 STRANGE STORIES 

reflect. The emotional displacement in him, of course, had 
been more than considerable : there had been upheaval, a 
change whose abruptness was even dislocating, fundamental 
in a sense he could not estimate — shock. Yet he took no 
count of anything but the one mastering desire to get to her 
as soon as possible, knock at the small white garden gate, 
hear her answering voice, see the low wooden door swing 
open — take her. There was joy and glory in his heart, and 
a yearning sweet delight. At this very moment she was 
expecting him. And he — had come. 

Behind these positive emotions, however, there lay 
concealed all the time others that were of a negative 
character. Consciously, he was not aware of them, but 
they were there ; they revealed their presence in various 
little ways that puzzled him. He recognised them absent- 
mindedly, as it were ; did not analyse or investigate them. 
For, through the confusion upon his faculties, rose also a 
certain hint of insecurity that betrayed itself by a slight 
hesitancy or miscalculation in one or two unimportant 
actions. There was a touch of melancholy, too, a sense of 
something lost. It lay, perhaps, in that tinge of sadness 
which accompanies the twilight of an autumn day, when a 
gentler, mournful beauty veils a greater beauty that is past. 
Some trick of memory connected it with a scene of early 
boyhood, when, meaning to see the sunrise, he overslept, 
and, by a brief half-hour, was just — too late. He noted it 
merely, then passed on ; he did not understand it ; he 
hurried all the more, this hurry the only sign that it teas 
noted. " I must be quick," flashed up across Ms strongly 
positive emotions. 

And, due to this hurry, possibly, were the slight mis- 
calculations that he made. They were very trivial. He 
rang for sugar, though the bowl stood just before his eyes, 
yet when the girl came in he forgot completely what he 



THE TRYST 137 

rang for — and inquired instead about the late trains back to 
London. And, when the time-table was laid before him, he 
examined it without intelligence, then looked up suddenly 
into the maid's face with a question about flowers. Were 
there flowers to be had in the village anywhere ? What 
kind of flowers ? " Oh, a bouquet or a " — he hesitated, 
searching for a word that tried to present itself, yet was not 
the word he wanted to make use of — " or a wreath — of some 
sort ? " he finished. He took the very word he did not 
want to take. In several things he did and said, this 
hesitancy and miscalculation betrayed themselves — such 
trivial things, yet significant in an elusive way that he 
disliked. There was sadness, insecurity somewhere in 
them. And he resented them, though aware of their 
existence only because they qualified his joy. There was a 
whispered " No " floating somewhere in the dusk. Almost 
—he felt disquiet. He hurried, more and more eager to be 
off upon his journey — the final part of it. 

Moreover, there were other signs of an odd miscalculation 
— dislocation, perhaps, properly speaking — in him . Though 
the inn was familiar from his boyhood days, kept by the 
same old couple, too, he volunteered no information about 
himself, nor asked a single question about the village he was 
bound for. He did not even inquire if the rector — her 
father — still were living. And when he left he entirely 
neglected the gilt-framed mirror above the mantelpiece of 
plush, dusty pampas-grass in waterless vases on either side. 
It did not matter, apparently, whether he looked well or ill, 
tidy or untidy. He forgot that when his cap was off the 
absence of thick, accustomed hair must alter him con- 
siderably, forgot also that two fingers were missing from 
one hand, the right hand, the hand that she would presently 
clasp. Nor did it occur to him that he wore glasses, which 
must change his expression and add to the appearance of 



138 STRANGE STORIES 

the years he bore. None of these obvious and natural 
things seemed to come into his thoughts at all. He was in a 
hurry to be off. He did not think. But, though his mind 
may not have noted these slight betrayals with actual 
sentences, his attitude, nevertheless, expressed them. 
This was, it seemed, the feeling in him : " What could such 
details matter to her now ? Why, indeed, should he give to 
them a single thought ? It was himself she loved and waited 
for, not separate items of his external, physical image." 
As well think of the fact that she, too, must have altered — 
outwardly. It never once occurred to him. Such detail 
were of To-day. . . . He was only impatient to come to her 
quickly, very quickly, instantly, if possible. He hurried. 

There was a flood of boyhood's joy in him. He paid for 
his tea, giving a tip that was twice the price of the meal, and 
set out gaily and impetuously along the winding lane. 
Charged to the brim with a sweet picture of a small, white 
garden gate, the loved face close behind it, he went forward 
at a headlong pace, singing " Nancy Lee " as he used to 
sing it fifteen years before. 

With action, then, the negative sensations hid themselves, 
obliterated by the positive ones that took command. The 
former, however, merely lay concealed ; they waited. 
Thus, perhaps, does vital emotion, overlong restrained, 
denied, indeed, of its blossoming altogether, take revenge. 
Repressed elements in his psychic life asserted themselves, 
selecting, as though naturally, a dramatic form. 

The dusk fell rapidly, mist rose in floating strips along the 
meadows by the stream ; the old, familiar details beckoned 
him forwards, then drove him from behind as he went 
swiftly past them. He recognised others rising through the 
thickening air beyond ; they nodded, peered, and whispered, 
sometimes they almost sang. And each added to his inner 
happiness ; each brought its sweet and precious con- 



THE TRYST 139 

tribution, and built it into the reconstructed picture of the 
earlier, long-forgotten rapture. It was an enticing and 
enchanted journey that he made, something impossibly 
blissful in it, something, too, that seemed curiously 
irresistible. 

For the scenery had not altered all these years, the details 
of the country were unchanged, everything he saw was rich 
with dear and precious association, increasing the momen- 
tum of the tide that carried him along. Yonder was the 
stile over whose broken step he had helped her yesterday, 
and there the slippery plank across the stream where she 
looked above her shoulder to ask for his support ; he saw 
the very bramble bushes where she scratched her hand, a- 
black-berrying, the day before . . . and, finally, the 
weather-stained signpost, " To the Rectory." It pointed 
to the path through the dangerous field where Farmer 
Sparrow's bull provided such a sweet excuse for holding, 
leading — protecting her. From the entire landscape rose a 
steam of recent memory, each incident alive, each little 
detail brimmed with its cargo of fond association. 

He read the rough black lettering on the crooked arm — it 
was rather faded, but he knew it too well to miss a single 
letter — and hurried forward along the muddy track ; he 
looked about him for a sign of Farmer Sparrow's bull ; he 
even felt in the misty air for the little hand, that he might 
take and lead her into safety. The thought of her drew 
him on with such irresistible anticipation that it seemed as 
if the cumulative drive of vanished and unsated years 
evoked the tangible phantom almost. He actually felt it, 
soft and warm and clinging in his own, that was no longer 
incomplete and mutilated. 

Yet it was not he who led and guided now, but, more and 
more, he who was being led. The hint had first betrayed its 
presence at the inn ; it now openly declared itself. It had 



Ho STRANGE STORIES 

crossed the frontier into a positive sensation. Its growth, 
swiftly increasing all this time, had accomplished itself ; he 
had ignored, somehow, both its genesis and quick develop- 
ment ; the result he plainly recognised. She was expecting 
him, indeed, but it was more than expectation ; there was 
calling in it — she summoned, him . Her thought and longing 
reached him along that old, invisible track love builds so 
easily between true, faithful hearts. All the forces of her 
being, her very voice, came towards him through the 
deepening autumn twilight. He had not noticed the 
curious physical restoration in his hand, but he was vividly 
aware of this more magical alteration — that she led and 
guided him, drawing him ever more swiftly towards the 
little, white garden gate where she stood at this very 
moment, waiting. Her sweet strength compelled him ; 
there was this new touch of something irresistible about the 
familiar journey, where formerly had been delicious yielding 
only, shy, tentative advance. 

His footsteps hurried, faster and ever faster ; so deep was 
the allurement in his blood, he almost ran. He reached the 
narrow, winding lane, and raced along it. He knew each 
bend, each angle of the holly hedge, each separate incident 
of ditch and stone. He could have plunged blindfold down 
it at top speed. The familiar perfumes rushed at him — 
dead leaves and mossy earth and ferns and dock leaves, 
bringing the bewildering currents of strong emotion in him 
all together as in a rising wave. He saw, then, the crumb- 
ling wall, the cedars topping it with spreading branches, the 
chimneys of the rectory. On his right bulked the outline 
of the old, grey church ; the twisted, ancient yews, the 
company of gravestones, upright and leaning, dotting the 
ground like listening figures. But he looked at none of 
these. For, a little beyond, he already saw the five rough 
steps of stone that led from the lane towards a small, white 



THE TRYST 141 

garden gate. That gate at last shone before him, rising 
through the misty air. He reached it. 

He stopped dead a moment. His heart, it seemed, 
stopped too, then took to violent hammering in his brain. 
There was a roaring in his mind, and yet a marvellous 
silence — just behind it. Then the roar of emotion died 
away. There was utter stillness. This stillness, silence, 
was all about him. The world seemed preternaturally 
quiet. 

But the pause was too brief to measure. For the tide of 
emotion had receded only to come on again with redoubled 
power. He turned, leaped forward, clambered impetuously 
up the rough stone steps, and flung himself, breathless and 
exhausted, against the trivial barrier that stood between his 
eyes and — hers. In his wild, half violent impatience, 
however, he stumbled. That roaring, too, confused him. 
He fell forward, it seemed, for twilight had merged in 
darkness, and he misjudged the steps, the distances he yet 
knew so well. For a moment, certainly, he lay at full 
length upon the uneven ground against the wall ; the steps 
had tripped him. And then he raised himself and knocked. 
His right hand struck upon the small, white garden gate. 
Upon the two lost fingers he felt the impact. " I am here," 
he cried, with a deep sound in his throat as though utterance 
was choked and difficult. " I have come back." 

For a fraction of a second he waited, while the world 
stood still and waited with him. But there was no delay. 
Her answer came at once : " I am well. ... I am happy. 
... I am waiting." 

And the voice was dear and marvellous as of old. Though 
the words were strange, reminding him of something 
dreamed, forgotten, lost, it seemed, he did not take special 
note of them. He only wondered that she did not open 
instantly that he might see her. Speech could follow, but 



142 STRANGE STORIES 

sight came surely first ! There was this lightning-flash of 
disappointment in him. Ah, she was lengthening out the 
marvellous moment, as often and often she had done before. 
It was to tease him that she made him wait. He knocked 
again ; he pushed against the unyielding surface. For he 
noticed that it was unyielding ; and there was a depth in the 
tender voice that he could not understand. 

" Open ! " he cried again, but louder than before. " I 
have come back ! " And, as he said it, the mist struck cold 
against his face. 

But her answer froze his blood. 

" I cannot open." 

And a sudden anguish of despair rose over him ; the 
sound of her voice was strange ; in it was f aintness, distance 
as well as depth. It seemed to echo. Something frantic 
seized him then — the panic sense. 

" Open, open ! Come out to me ! " he tried to shout. 
His voice failed oddly ; there was no power in it. Some- 
thing appalling struck him between the eyes. " For God's 
sake, open. I'm waiting here ! Open, and come out to 
me!" 

The reply was muffled by distance that already seemed 
increasing ; he was conscious of freezing cold about him — 
in his heart : 

" I cannot. You must come in to me." 

He knew not exactly then what happened, for the cold 
grew dreadful and the icy mist was in his throat. No 
words would come. He rose to his knees, and from his 
knees to his feet. He stooped. With all his force he 
knocked again ; in a blind frenzy of despair he hammered 
and beat against the unyielding barrier of the small, white 
garden gate. He battered it till the skin of his knuckles 
was torn and bleeding — the first two fingers of a hand 
already mutilated. He remembers the torn and broken 



THE TRYST 143 

skin, for he noticed in the gloom that stains upon the gate 
bore witness to his violence ; it was not till afterwards that 
he remembered the other fact — that the hand had already 
suffered mutilation, long, long years ago. The power of 
sound was feebly in him ; he called aloud ; there was no 
answer. He tried to scream, but the scream was muffled in 
his throat before it issued properly ; it was a nightmare 
scream. As a last resort he flung himself bodily upon the 
unyielding gate, with such precipitate violence, moreover, 
that his face struck against its surface. 

From the friction, then, along the whole length of his 
cheek he knew that the surface was not smooth. Cold and 
rough that surface was ; but also — it was not of wood. 
Moreover, there was writing on it he had not seen before. 
How he deciphered it in the gloom, he never knew. The 
lettering was deeply cut. Perhaps he traced it with his 
fingers ; his right hand certainly lay stretched upon it. 
He made out a name, a date, a broken verse from the Bible, 
and strange words : " Je suis la -premiere au rendez-vous. 
Je vous attends." The lettering was sharply cut with edges 
that were new. For the date was of a week ago ; the 
broken verse ran, " When the shadows flee away ..." 
and the small white garden gate was unyielding because it 
was of — stone. 

At the inn he found himself staring at a table from 
which the tea things had not been cleared away. There 
was a railway time-table in his hands, and his head was bent 
forwards over it, trying to decipher the lettering in the 
growing twilight. Beside him, still fingering a florin, stood 
the serving-girl ; her other hand held a brown tray with a 
running dog painted upon its dented surface. It swung to 
and fro a little as she spoke, evidently continuing a con- 
versation her customer had begun. For she was giving 



144 STRANGE STORIES 

information — in the colourless, disinterested voice such 
persons use : 

" We all went to the funeral, sir, all the country people 
went. The grave was her father's — the family grave. . . ." 
Then, seeing that her customer was too absorbed in the 
time-table to listen further, she said no more but began to 
pile the tea things on to the tray with noisy clatter. 

Ten minutes later, in the road, he stood hesitating. The 
signal at the station just opposite was already down. The 
autumn mist was rising. He looked along the winding 
road that melted away into the distance, then slowly 
turned and reached the platform just as the London train 
came in. He felt very old — too old to walk three miles. . . . 



TRANSITION 

JOHN MUDBURY was on his way home from the 
shops, his arms full of Christmas Presents. It was after 
six o'clock and the streets were very crowded. He was an 
ordinary man, lived in an ordinary suburban flat, with an 
ordinary wife and ordinary children. He did not think 
them ordinary, but everybody else did. He had ordinary 
presents for each one, a cheap blotter for his wife, a cheap 
air-gun for the boy, and so forth. He was over fifty, bald, 
in an office, decent in mind and habits, of uncertain opinions, 
uncertain politics, and uncertain religion. Yet he con- 
sidered himself a decided, positive gentleman, quite un- 
aware that the morning newspaper determined his opinions 
for the day. He just lived — from day to day. Physically, 
he was fit enough, except for a weak heart (which never 
troubled him) ; and his summer holiday was bad golf, while 
the children bathed and his wife read Garvice on the sands. 
Like the majority of men, he dreamed idly of the past, 
muddled away the present, and guessed vaguely — after 
imaginative reading on occasions — at the future. 

" I'd like to survive all right," he said, " provided it's 
better than this," surveying his wife and children, and 

thinking of his daily toil. " Otherwise ! " and he 

shrugged his shoulders as a brave man should. 

He went to church regularly. But nothing in church 
convinced him that he did survive, just as nothing in church 
enticed him into hoping that he would. On the other hand, 
nothing in life persuaded him that he didn't, wouldn't, 
couldn't. " I'm an Evolutionist," he loved to say to 

145 



146 strange stories 

thoughtful cronies (over a glass), having never heard that 
Darwinism had been questioned. 

And so he came home gaily, happily, with his bunch of 
Christmas Presents " for the wife and little ones," stroking 
himself upon their keen enjoyment and excitement. The 
night before he had taken " the wife " to see Magic at a 
select London theatre where the Intellectuals went — and 
had been extraordinarily stirred. He had gone question- 
ingly, yet expecting something out of the common. " It's 
not musical," he warned her, " nor farce, nor comedy, so to 
speak " ; and in answer to her question as to what the 
critics had said, he had wriggled, sighed, and put his gaudy 
neck-tie straight four times in quick succession. For no 
Man in the Street, with any claim to self-respect, could be 
expected to understand what the critics had said, even if he 
understood the Play. And John had answered truthfully : 
" Oh, they just said things. But the theatre's always full — 
and that's the only test." 

And just now, as he crossed the crowded Circus to catch 
his 'bus, it chanced that his mind (having glimpsed an 
advertisement) was full of this particular Play, or, rather, of 
the effect it had produced upon him at the time. For it had 
thrilled him — inexplicably : with its marvellous speculative 
hint, its big audacity, its alert and spiritual beauty. . . . 
Thought plunged to find something — plunged after this 
bizarre suggestion of a bigger universe, after this quasi- 
jocular suggestion that man is not the only — then dashed 
full-tilt against a sentence that memory thrust beneath his 
nose : " Science does not exhaust the Universe " — and at 
the same time dashed full-tilt against destruction of another 
kind as well . . . ! 

How it happened he never exactly knew. He saw a 
Monster glaring at him with eyes of blazing fjre. It was 
horrible ! It rushed upon him. He dodged. . . . Another 



TRANSITION 147 

Monster met him round the corner. Both came at him 
simultaneously. He dodged again — a leap that might have 
cleared a hurdle easily, but was too late. Between the 
pair of them — his heart literally in his gullet — he was 
mercilessly caught. Bones crunched. . . . There was a 
soft sensation, icy cold and hot as fire. Horns and voices 
roared. Battering-rams he saw, and a carapace of iron. 
. . . Then dazzling light. ..." Always face the traffic I " 
he remembered with a frantic yell — and, by some extra- 
ordinary luck, escaped miraculously on to the opposite 
pavement. 

There was no doubt about it. By the skin of his teeth he 
had dodged a rather ugly death. First ... he felt for his 
Presents — all were safe. And then, instead of congratulat- 
ing himself and taking breath, he hurried homewards — on 
foot, which proved that his mind had lost control a bit ! — 
thinking only how disappointed the wife and children 
would have been if — well, if anything had happened. 
Another thing he realised, oddly enough, was that he no 
longer really loved his wife, but had only great affection for 
her. What made him think of that, Heaven only knows, 
but he did think of it. He was an honest man without 
pretence. This came as a discovery somehow. He turned 
a moment, and saw the crowd gathered about the entangled 
taxi-cabs, policemen's helmets gleaming in the lights of the 
shop windows . . . then hurried on again, his thoughts full 
of the joy his Presents would give ... of the scampering 
children . . . and of his wife — bless her silly heart ! — 
eyeing the mysterious parcels. . . . 

And, though he never could explain how, he presently 
stood at the door of the jail-like building that contained his 
flat, having walked the whole three miles. His thoughts had 
been so busy and absorbed that he had hardly noticed the 
length of weary trudge. " Besides," he reflected, thinking 



148 STRANGE STORIES 

of the narrow escape, " I've had a nasty shock. It was a 

d d near thing, now I come to think of it. . . ." He 

still felt a bit shaky and bewildered. Yet, at the same time, 
he felt extraordinarily jolly and light-hearted. 

He counted his Christmas parcels . . . hugged himself in 
anticipatory joy . . . and let himself in swiftly with his 
latchkey. " I'm late," he realised, " but when she sees the 
brown-paper parcels, she'll forget to say a word. God bless 
the old faithful soul." And he softly used the key a 
second time and entered his flat on tiptoe. ... In his mind 
was the master impulse of that afternoon — the pleasure 
these Christmas Presents would give his wife and children. 

He heard a noise. He hung up hat and coat in the poky 
vestibule (they never called it " hall ") and moved softly 
towards the parlour door, holding the packages behind him. 
Only of them he thought, not of himself — of his family, that 
is, not of the packages. Pushing the door cunningly ajar, 
he peeped in shyly. To his amazement the room was full of 
people. He withdrew quickly, wondering what it meant. 
A party ? And without his knowing about it ! Extra- 
ordinary ! . . . Keen disappointment came over him. But 
as he stepped back, the vestibule, he saw, was full of people 
too. 

He was uncommonly surprised, yet somehow not sur- 
prised at all. People were congratulating him. There was 
a perfect mob of them. Moreover, he knew them all — 
vaguely remembered them, at least. And they all knew 
him. 

" Isn't it a game ? " laughed someone, patting him on the 
back. " They haven't the least idea . . . ! " 

And the speaker — it was old John Palmer, the book- 
keeper at the office — emphasised the " they." 

" Not the least idea," he answered with a smile, saying 
something he didn't understand, yet knew was right. 



TRANSITION 149 

His face, apparently, showed the utter bewilderment he 
felt. The shock of the collision had been greater than he 
realised evidently. His mind was wandering. . . . Pos- 
sibly ! Only the odd thing was — he had never felt so clear- 
headed in his life. Ten thousand things grew simple 
suddenly. But, how thickly these people pressed about 
him, and how — familiarly ! 

" My parcels," he said, joyously pushing his way across 
the throng. " These are Christmas Presents I've bought 
for them." He nodded toward the room. " I've saved for 
weeks— stopped cigars and billiards and — and several other 
good things — to buy them." 

" Good man ! " said Palmer with a happy laugh. " It's 
the heart that counts." 

Mudbury looked at him. Palmer had said an amazing 
truth, only — people would hardly understand and believe 
him. . . . Would they ? 

" Eh ? " he asked, feeling stuffed and stupid, muddled 
somewhere between two meanings, one of which was 
gorgeous and the other stupid beyond belief. 

" If you please, Mr. Mudbury, step inside. They are 
expecting you," said a kindly, pompous voice. And, 
turning sharply, he met the gentle, foolish eyes of Sir James 
Epiphany, a director of the Bank where he worked. 

The effect of the voice was instantaneous from long 
habit. 

" They are," he smiled from his heart, and advanced as 
from the custom of many years. Oh, how happy and gay 
he felt ! His affection for his wife was real. Romance, 
indeed, had gone, but he needed her — and she needed him. 
And the children — Milly, Bill, and Jean — he deeply loved 
them. Life was worth living indeed ! 

In the room was a crowd, but — an astounding silence. 
John Mudbury looked round him. He advanced towards 



150 STRANGE STORIES 

his wife, who sat in the corner arm-chair with Milly on her 
knee. A lot of people talked and moved about. Momen- 
tarily the crowd increased. He stood in front of them — in 
front of Milly and his wife. And he spoke — holding out his 
packages. " It's Christmas Eve," he whispered shyly, 
" and I've — brought you something — something for 
everybody. Look ! " He held the packages before their 
eyes. 

" Of course, of course," said a voice behind him, " but 
you may hold them out like that for a century. They'll 
never see them ! " 

" Of course they won't. But I love to do the old, sweet 
thing," replied John Mudbury — then wondered with a 
gasp of stark amazement why he said it. 

" I think " whispered Milly, staring round her. 

" Well what do you think ? " her mother asked sharply. 
" You're always thinking something queer." 

" I think," the girl continued dreamily, " that Daddy's 
already here." She paused, then added with a child's 
impossible conviction, " I'm sure he is. Yfeel him." 

There was an extraordinary laugh. Sir James Epiphany 
laughed. The others — the whole crowd of them — also 
turned their heads and smiled. But the mother, thrusting 
the child away from her, rose up suddenly with a violent 
start. Her face had turned to chalk. She stretched her 
arms out — into the air before her. She gasped and shivered. 
There was anguish in her eyes. 

" Look ! " repeated John, " these are the Presents that I 
brought." 

But his voice apparently was soundless. And, with a 
spasm of icy pain, he remembered that Palmer and Sir 
James — some years ago — had died. 

" It's magic," he cried, " but — I love you, Jinny — I love 
you — and — and I have always been true to you — as true as 



TRANSITION 151 

steel. We need each other — oh, can't you see — we go on 
together — you and I — for ever and ever " 

" Think" interrupted an exquisitely tender voice, 
" don't shout ! They can't hear you — now." And, turning 
John Mudbury met the eyes of Everard Mint/urn, their 
President of the year before. Minturn had gone down with 
the Titanic. 

He dropped his parcels then. His heart gave an enor- 
mous leap of joy. 

He saw her face — the face of his wife — look through him. 

But the child gazed straight into his eyes. She saw him. 

The next thing he knew was that he heard something 
tinkling . . . far, far away. It sounded miles below him — 
inside him — he was sounding himself — all utterly bewilder- 
ing — like a bell. It was a bell. 

Milly stooped down and picked the parcels up. Her face 
shone with happiness and laughter. . . . 

But a man came in soon after, a man with a ridiculous, 
solemn face, a pencil and a notebook- He wore a dark blue 
helmet. Behind him came a string of other men. They 
carried something . . . something ... he could not see 
exactly what it was. But, when he pressed forward 
through the laughing throng to gaze upon it, he dimly made 
out two eyes, a nose, a chin, a deep red smear, and a pair of 
folded hands upon an overcoat. A woman's form fell down 
upon them then, and he heard soft sounds of children 
weeping strangely . . . and other sounds ... as of 
familiar voices laughing . . . laughing gaily. 

" They'll join us presently. It goes like a flash . . ." 

And, turning with great happiness in his heart, he saw 
that Sir James had said it, holding Palmer by the arm as 
with some natural yet unexpected love of sympathetic 
friendship. 

" Come on," said Palmer, smiling like a man who accepts 



152 STRANGE STORIES 

a gift in universal fellowship, "let's help 'em. They'll 
never understand. . . . Still, we can always try." 

The entire throng moved up with laughter and amuse- 
ment. It was a moment of hearty, genuine life at last. 
Delight and Joy and Peace were everywhere. 

Then John Mudbury realised the truth — that he was dead. 



THE OCCUPANT OF THE ROOM 

HE arrived late at night by the yellow diligence, stiff 
and cramped after the toilsome ascent of three slow 
hours. The village, a single mass of shadow, was already 
asleep. Only in front of the little hotel was there noise and 
light and bustle — for a moment. The horses, with tired, 
slouching gait, crossed the road and disappeared into the 
stable of their own accord, their harness trailing in the dust ; 
and the lumbering diligence stood for the night where they 
had dragged it— the body of a great yellow-sided beetle 
with broken legs. 

In spite of his physical weariness the schoolmaster, 
revelling in the first hours of his ten-guinea holiday, felt 
exhilarated. For the high Alpine vaUey was marvellously 
still ; stars twinkled over the torn ridges of the Dent du 
Midi where spectral snows gleamed against rocks that 
looked like ebony ; and the keen air smelt of pine forests, 
dew-soaked pastures, and freshly sawn wood. He took it 
all in with a kind of bewildered delight for a few minutes, 
while the other three passengers gave directions about their 
luggage and went to their rooms. Then he turned and 
walked over the coarse matting into the glare of the hall, 
only just able to resist stopping to examine the big moun- 
tain map that hung upon the wall by the door. 

And, with a sudden disagreeable shock, he came down 
from the ideal to the actual. For at the inn— the only inn 
—there was no vacant room. Even the available sofas 
were occupied. . . . 

How stupid he had been not to write ! Yet it had been 
impossible, he remembered, for he had come to the decision 

*53 f 



I54 STRANGE STORIES 

suddenly that morning in Geneva, enticed by the brilliance 

of the weather after a week of rain. 

They talked endlessly, this gold-braided porter and the 
hard-faced old woman— her face was hard, he noticed— 
gesticulating all the time, and pointing all about the village 
with suggestions that he ill understood, for his French was 
limited and their patois was fearful. 

" There ! "— -he might find a room, " or there ! But we 
are, helas, full— more full than we care about. To-morrow, 

perhaps— if So-and-So give up their rooms ! " And 

then, with much shrugging of shoulders, the hard-faced old 
woman stared at the gold-braided porter, and the porter 
stared sleepily at the schoolmaster. 

At length, however, by some process of hope he did not 
himself understand, and following directions given by the 
old woman that were utterly unintelligible, he went out 
into the street and walked towards a dark group of houses 
she had pointed out to him. He only knew that he meant 
to thunder at a door and ask for a room. He was too 
weary to think out details. The porter half made to go 
with him, but turned back at the last moment to speak 
with the old woman. The houses sketched themselves 
dimly in the general blackness. The air was cold. The 
whole valley was filled with the rush and thunder of falling 
water. He was thinking vaguely that the dawn could not be 
very far away, and that he might even spend the night 
wandering in the woods, when there was a sharp noise 
behind him and he turned to see a figure hurrying after him. 
It was the porter — running. 

And in the little hall of the inn there began again a 
confused three-cornered conversation, with frequent 
muttered colloquy and whispered asides in patois between 
the woman and the porter— the net result of which was 
that, " If Monsieur did not object— there was a room, after 



THE OCCUPANT OF THE ROOM 155 

all, on the first floor — only it was in a sense ' engaged/ 
That is to say " 

But the schoolmaster took the room without inquiring 
too closely into the puzzle that had somehow provided it so 
suddenly. The ethics of hotel-keeping had nothing to do 
with him. If the woman offered him quarters it was not 
for him to argue with her whether the said quarters were 
legitimately hers to offer. 

But the porter, evidently a little thrilled, accompanied 

the guest up to the room and supplied i an mixture of 

French and English details omitted by the landlady — and 

Minturn, the schoolmaster, soon shared the thrill with him,, 

" and found himself in the atmosphere of a possible tragedy. 

All who know the peculiar excitement that belongs to 
lofty mountain valleys where dangerous climbing is a chief 
feature of the attractions, will understand a certain faint 
element of high alarm that goes with the picture. One 
looks up at the desolate, soaring ridges and thinks in- 
voluntarily of the men who find their pleasure for days and 
nights together scaling perilous summits among the clouds,, 
and conquering inch by inch the icy peaks that for ever 
shake their dark terror in the sky. The atmosphere of 
adventure, spiced with the possible horror of a very grim 
order of tragedy, is inseparable from any imaginative 
contemplation of the scene ; and the idea Minturn gleaned 
from the half-frightened porter lost nothing by his ignorance 
of the language. This Englishwoman, the real occupant 
of the room, had insisted on going without a guide. She 
had left just before daybreak two days before — the porter 
bad seen her start — and ... she had not returned ! The 
route was difficult and dangerous, yet not impossible for a 
skilled climber, even a solitary one. And the English- 
woman was an experienced mountaineer. Also, she was 
self-willed, careless of advice, bored by warnings, self- 



156 STRANGE STORIES 

confident to a degree. Queer, moreover ; for she kept 
entirely to herself, and sometimes remained in her room 
with locked doors, admitting no one, for days together : a 
" crank," evidently, of the first water. 

This much Minturn gathered clearly enough from the 
porter's talk while his luggage was brought in and the room 
set to rights ; further, too, that the search party had gone 
out and might, of course, return at any moment. In which 

case Thus the room was empty, yet still hers. " If 

Monsieur did not object — if the risk he ran of having to 

turn out suddenly in the night " It was the loquacious 

porter who furnished the details that made the transaction 
questionable ; and Minturn dismissed the loquacious 
porter as soon as possible, and prepared to get into the 
hastily arranged bed and snatch all the hours of sleep he 
could before he was turned out. 

At first, it must be admitted, he felt uncomfortable — 
distinctly uncomfortable. He was in someone else's room. 
He had really no right to be there. It was in the nature of 
an unwarrantable intrusion ; and while he unpacked he 
kept looking over his shoulder as though someone were 
watching him from the corners. Any moment, it seemed, 
he would hear a step in the passage, a knock would come at 
the door, the door would open, and there he would see this 
vigorous Englishwoman looking bim up and down with 
anger. Worse still — he would hear her voice asking him 
what he was going in her room— her bedroom. Of course, 
he had an adequate explanation, but still ! 

Then, reflecting that he was already half undressed, the 
humour of it flashed for a second across his mind, and he 
laughed — quietly. And at once, after that laughter, under 
his breath, came the sudden sense of tragedy he had felt 
before. Perhaps, even while he smiled, her body lay 
broken and cold upon those awful heights, the wind of snow 



THE OCCUPANT OF THE ROOM 157 

playing over her hair, her glazed eyes staring sightless up to 
the stars. ... It made him shudder. The sense of this 
woman whom he hade nver seen, whose name even he did 
not know, became extraordinarily real. Almost he could 
imagine that she was somewhere in the room with him, 
hidden, observing all he did. 

He opened the door softly to put his boots outside, and 
when he closed it again he turned the key. Then he 
finished unpacking and distributed his few things about the 
room. It was soon done ; for, in the first place, he had only 
a small Gladstone and a knapsack, and secondly, the only 
place where he could spread his clothes was the sofa. 
There was no chest of drawers, and the cupboard, an 
unusually large and solid one, was locked. The English- 
woman's things had evidently been hastily put away in it. 
The only sign of her recent presence was a bunch of faded 
Alpenrosen standing in a glass jar upon the washhand stand. 
This, and a certain faint perfume, were all that remained. 
In spite, however, of these very slight evidences, the whole 
room was pervaded with a curious sense of occupancy that 
he found exceedingly distasteful. One moment the 
atmosphere seemed subtly charged with a " just left " 
feeling ; the next it was a queer awareness of " still here " 
that made him turn and look hurriedly behind him. 

Altogether, the room inspired him with a singular 
aversion, and the strength of this aversion seemed the only 
excuse for his tossing the faded flowers out of the window, 
and then hanging his mackintosh upon the cupboard door in 
such a way as to screen it as much as possible from view. 
For the sight of that big, ugly cupboard, filled with the 
clothing of a woman who might then be beyond any further 
need of covering — thus his imagination insisted on picturing 
it — touched in him a startled sense of the incongruous that 
did not stop there, but crept through his mind gradually till 



158 STRANGE STORIES 

it merged somehow into a sense of a rather grotesque 
horror. At any rate, the sight of that cupboard was 
•offensive, and he covered it almost instinctively. Then, 
turning out the electric light, he got into bed. 

But the instant the room was dark he realised that it was 
more than he could stand ; for, with the blackness, there 
■came a sudden rush of cold that he found it hard to explain. 
And the odd thing was that, when he lit the candle beside 
his bed, he noticed that his hand trembled. 

This, of course, was too much. His imagination was 
taking liberties and must be called to heel. Yet the way he 
•called it to order was significant, and its very deliberateness 
betrayed a mind that has already admitted fear. And fear, 
•once in, is difficult to dislodge. He lay there upon his 
elbow in bed and carefully took note of all the objects in the 
room — with the intention, as it were, of taking an inventory 
■of everything his senses perceived, then drawing a line, 
adding them up finally, and saying with decision, " That's 
all the room contains ! I've counted every single thing. 
There is nothing more. Now — I may sleep in peace ! " 

And it was during this absurd process of enumerating the 
furniture of the room that the dreadful sense of distressing 
lassitude came over him that made it difficult even to 
finish counting. It came swiftly, yet with an amazing kind 
of violence that overwhelmed him softly and easily with a 
sensation of enervating weariness hard to describe. And 
its first effect was to banish fear. He no longer possessed 
«nough energy to feel really afraid or nervous. The cold 
remained, but the alarm vanished. And into every corner 
of his usually vigorous personality crept the insidious 
poison of a muscular fatigue — at first — that in a few 
seconds, it seemed, translated itself into spiritual inertia. 
A sudden consciousness of the foolishness, the crass futility, 
of life, of effort, of fighting — of all that makes life worth 



THE OCCUPANT OF THE ROOM 159 

living, shot into every fibre of his being, and left him 
utterly weak. A spirit of black pessimism that was not 
even vigorous enough to assert itself, invaded the secret 
chambers of his heart. . . . 

Every picture that presented itself to his mind came 
dressed in grey shadows : those bored and sweating horses 
toiling up the ascent to — nothing ! that hard-faced landlady 
taking so much trouble to let her desire for gain conquer her 
sense of morality — for a few francs ! That gold-braided 
porter, so talkative, fussy, energetic, and so anxious to tell 
all he knew ! What was the use of them all ? And for 
himself, what in the world was the good of all the labonr and 
drudgery he went through in that preparatory school 
where he was junior master ? What could it lead to f 
Wherein lay the value of so much uncertain toil, when the 
ultimate secrets of life were hidden and no one knew the 
final goal ? How foolish was effort, discipline, work I 
How vain was pleasure ! How trivial the noblest life ! . . . 

With a fearful jump that nearly upset the candle Minturn 
pulled himself together. Such vicious thoughts were 
usually so remote from his normal character that the 
sudden vile invasion produced a swift reaction. Yet, only 
for a moment. Instantly, again, the black depression 
descended upon him like a wave. His work — it could lead 
to nothing but the dreary labour of a small headmastership 
after all — seemed as vain and foolish as his holiday in the 
Alps. What an idiot he had been, to be sure, to come out 
with a knapsack merely to work himself into a state of 
exhaustion climbing over toilsome mountains that led to 
nowhere — resulted in nothing. A dreariness of the grave 
possessed him. Life was a ghastly fraud ! Religion a 
childish humbug ! Everything was merely a trap — a trap 
of death ; a coloured toy that Nature used as a decoy ! 
But a decoy for what ? For nothing ! There was no- 



160 STRANGE STORIES 

meaning in anything. The only real thing was— DEATH. 
And the happiest people were those who found it soonest. 

Then why wait for it to come ? 

He sprang out of bed, thoroughly frightened. This was 
horrible. Surely mere physical fatigue could not produce a 
world so black, an outlook so dismal, a cowardice that 
struck with such sudden hopelessness at the very roots of 
life ? For, normally, he was cheerful and strong, full of the 
tides of healthy living ; and this appalling lassitude swept 
the very basis of his personality into Nothingness and the 
desire for death. It was like the development of a 
Secondary Personality. He had read, of course, how 
certain persons who suffered shocks developed thereafter 
entirely different characteristics, memory, tastes, and so 
forth. It had all rather frightened him. Though scientific 
men vouched for it, it was hardly to be believed. Yet here 
was a similar thing taking place in his own consciousness. 
He was, beyond question, experiencing all the mental 
variations of — someone else ! It was un-moral. It was 
awful. It was — well, after all, at the same time, it was un- 
commonly interesting. 

And this interest he began to feel was the first sign of his 
returning normal Self. For to feel interest is to live, and to 
love life. 

He sprang into the middle of the room — then switched 
on the electric light. And the first thing that struck his 
eye was — the big cupboard. 

" Hallo ! There's that — beastly cupboard ! " he ex- 
claimed to himself, involuntarily, yet aloud. It held all 
the clothes, the swinging skirts and coats and summer 
blouses of the dead woman. For he knew now — somehow 
or other — that she was dead. . . . 

At that moment, through the open windows, rushed the 
sound of falling water, bringing with it a vivid realisation 



THE OCCUPANT OF THE ROOM 161 

of the desolate, snow-swept heights. He saw her — 
positively saw her ! — lying where she had fallen, the frost 
upon her cheeks, the snow-dust eddying about her hair and 
eyes, her broken limbs pushing against the lumps of ice. 
For a moment the sense of spiritual lassitude — of the 
emptiness of life — vanished before this picture of broken 
effort — of a small human force battling pluckily, yet in vain, 
against the impersonal and pitiless Potencies of Inanimate 
Nature — and he found himself again, his normal self. 
Then, instantly, returned again that terrible sense of cold, 
nothingness, emptiness. . . . 

And he found himself standing opposite the big cupboard 
where her clothes were. He suddenly wanted to see those 
clothes — things she had used and worn. Quite close he 
stood, almost touching it. The next second he had touched 
it. His knuckles struck upon the wood. 

Why he knocked is hard to say. It was an instinctive 
movement probably. Something in his deepest self 
dictated it — ordered it. He knocked at the door. And the 
dull sound upon the wood into the stillness of that room 
brought — horror. Why it should have done so he found it 
as hard to explain to himself as why he should have felt 
impelled to knock. The fact remains that when he heard 
the faint reverberation inside the cupboard, it brought with 
it so vivid a realisation of the woman's presence that he 
stood there shivering upon the floor with a dreadful sense of 
anticipation : he almost expected to hear an answering 
knock from within — the rustling of the hanging skirts 
perhaps — or, worse still, to see the locked door slowly open 
towards him. 

And from that moment, he declares that in some way or 
other he must have partially lost control of himself, or at 
least of his better judgment ; for he became possessed by 
such an over-mastering desire to tear open that cupboard 

17* 



i6a STRANGE STORIES 

door and see the clothes within, that he tried every key in 
the room in the vain efiort to unlock it, and then, finally, 
before he quite realised what he was doing — rang the bell ! 

But, having rung the bell for no obvious or intelligent 
reason at two o'clock in the morning, he then stood waiting 
in the middle of the floor for the servant to come, conscious 
for the first time that something outside his ordinary self 
had pushed him towards the act. It was almost like an 
internal voice that directed him . . . and thus, when at 
last steps came down the passage and he faced the cross and 
sleepy chambermaid, amazed at being summoned at such an 
hour, he found no difficulty in the matter of what he should 
say. For the same power that insisted he should open the 
cupboard door also impelled him to utter words over which 
he apparently had no control. 

" It's not you I rang for ! " he said with decision and 
impatience. " I want a man. Wake the porter and send 
him up to me at once — hurry ! I tell you, hurry ! " 

And when the girl had gone, frightened at his earnestness, 
Minturn realised that the words surprised himself as much 
as they surprised her. Until they were out of his mouth he 
had not known what exactly he was saying. But now he 
xinderstood that some force foreign to his own personality 
was using his mind and organs. The black depression that 
had possessed him a few moments before was also part of it. 
The powerful mood of this vanished woman had somehow 
momentarily taken possession of him — communicated, 
possibly, by the atmosphere of things in the room still 
belonging to her. But even now, when the porter, without 
coat or collar, stood beside him in the room, he did not 
understand why he insisted, with a positive fury admitting 
no denial, that the key of that cupboard must be found and 
the door instantly opened. 

The scene was a curious one. After some perplexed 



THE OCCUPANT OF THE ROOM 163 

whispering with the chambermaid at the end of the passage, 
the porter managed to find and produce the key in question. 
Neither he nor the girl knew clearly what this excited 
Englishman was up to, or why he was so passionately 
intent upon opening the cupboard at two o'clock in the 
morning. They watched him with an air of wodnering 
what was going to happen next. But something of his 
curious earnestness, even of his late fear, communicated 
itself to them, and the sound of the key grating in the lock 
made them both jump. 

They held their breath as the creaking door swung slowly 
open. All heard the clatter of that other key as it fell 
against the wooden floor — within. The cupboard had been 
locked from the inside. But it was the scared housemaid, 
from her position in the corridor, who first saw — and with a 
wild scream fell crashing against the bannisters. 

The porter made no attempt to save her. The school- 
master and himself made a simultaneous rush towards the 
door, now wide open. They, too, had seen. 

There were no clothes, skirts or blouses on the pegs, but 
they saw the body of the Englishwoman suspended in mid- 
air, the head bent forwards. Jarred by the movement of 
unlocking, the body swung slowly round to face them. . . . 
Pinned upon the inside of the door was a hotel envelope 
with the following words pencilled in straggling writing : 

" Tired — unhappy — hopelessly depressed. ... I cannot 
face life any longer. . . . All is black. I must put an end to 
it. ... I meant to do it on the mountains, but was afraid. 
I slipped back to my room unobserved. This way is 
easiest and best . . ." 



THE WINGS OF HORUS 

BINOVITCH had the bird in him somewhere : in his 
features, certainly, with his piercing eye and hawk-like 
nose ; in his movements, with his quick way of flitting, 
hopping, darting ; in the way he perched on the edge of a 
chair ; in the manner he pecked at his food ; in his twitter- 
ing, high-pitched voice as well ; and, above all, in his airy, 
flashing mind. He skimmed all subjects and picked their 
heart out neatly, as a bird skims lawn or air to snatch its 
prey. He had the bird's-eye view of everything. He loved 
birds and understood them instinctively ; could imitate 
their whistling notes with astonishing accuracy. Their one 
quality he had not was poise and balance. He was a 
nervous little man ; he was neurasthenic. And he was in 
Egypt by doctor's orders. 

Such imaginative, unnecessary ideas he had ! Such 
uncommon beliefs ! 

" The old Egyptians," he said laughingly, yet with a 
touch of solemn conviction in his manner, " were a great 
people. Their consciousness was different from ours. The 
bird idea, for instance, conveyed a sense of deity to 
them — of bird deity, that is : they had sacred birds — 
hawks, ibis, and so forth — and worshipped them." And 
he put his tongue out as though to say with challenge, 
" Ha, ha ! " 

" They also worshipped cats and crocodiles and cows," 
grinned Palazov. Binovitch seemed to dart across the 
table at his adversary. His eyes flashed ; his nose pecked 

164 



THE WINGS OF HORUS 165 

the air. Almost one could imagine the beating of his angry- 
wings. 

" Because everything alive," he half screamed, " was a 
symbol of some spiritual power to them. Your mind is as 
literal as a dictionary and as incoherent. Pages of ink 
without connected meaning ! Verb always in the infinitive ! 
If you were an old Egyptian, you — you " — he flashed and 
spluttered, his tongue shot out again, his keen eyes blazed — 
" you would take all those words and spin them into a great 
interpretation of life, a cosmic romance, as they did. 
Instead, you get the bitter, dead taste of ink in your mouth, 
and spit it over us — like that " — he made a quick move- 
ment of his whole body as a bird that shakes itself — " in 
empty phrases." 

Khilkofi ordered another bottle of champagne, while 
Vera, his sister, said half nervously, " Let's go for a drive ; 
it's moonlight." There was enthusiasm at once. Another 
of the party called the head waiter and told him to pack 
food and drink in baskets. It was only eleven o'clock. 
They would drive out into the desert, have a meal at two in 
the morning, tell stories, sing, and see the dawn. 

It was in one of those cosmopolitan hotels in Egypt which 
attract the ordinary tourists as well as those who are doing a 
" cure," and all these Russians were ill with one thing or 
another. All were ordered out for their health, and all 
were the despair of their doctors. They were as unmanage- 
able as a bazaar and as incoherent. Excess and bed were 
their routine. They lived, but none of them got better. 
Equally, none of them got angry. They talked in this 
strange personal way without a shred of malice or offence. 
The English, French, and Germans in the hotel watched 
them with remote amazement, referring to them as " that 
Russian lot." Their energy was elemental. They never 
stopped. They merely disappeared when the pace became 



i<56 STRANGE STORIES 

too fast, then reappeared after a day or two, and resumed 
their " living " as before. Binovitch, despite his neuras- 
thenia, was the life of the party. He was also a special 
patient of Dr. Plitzinger, the famous psychiatrist, who took 
a peculiar interest in his case. It was not surprising. 
Binovitch was a man of unusual ability and of genuine, deep 
culture. But there was something more about him that 
stimulated curiosity. There was this striking originality. 
He said and did surprising things. 

" I could fly if I wanted to," he said once when the 
airmen came to astonish the natives with their biplanes over 
the desert, "but without all that machinery and noise. 
It's only a question of believing and understanding " 

" Show us ! " they cried. " Let's see you fly ! " 

" He's got it ! He's off again ! One of his impossible, 
delightful moments ! " 

These occasions when Binovitch let himself go always 
proved wildly entertaining. He said monstrously in- 
credible things as though he really believed them. They 
loved his madness, for it gave them new sensations. 

" It's only levitation, after all, this flying," he exclaimed, 
shooting out his tongue between the words, as his habit was 
when excited ; " and what is levitation but a power of the 
air ? None of you can hang an orange in space for a second, 
with all your scientific knowledge ; but the moon is always 
levitated perfectly. And the stars. D'you think they 
swing on wires F What raised the enormous stones of 
ancient Egypt ? D'you really believe it was heaped-up 
sand and ropes and clumsy leverage and all our weary and 
laborious mechanical contrivances ? Bah ! It was 
levitation. It was the powers of the air. Believe in those 
powers, and gravity becomes a mere nursery trick — true 
where it is, but true nowhere else. To know the fourth 
dimension is to step out of a locked room and appear 



THE WINGS OF HORUS 167 

instantly on the roof or in another country altogether. To 
know the powers of the air, similarly, is to annihilate what 
you call weight — and fly." 

" Show us, show us ! " they cried, roaring with delighted 
laughter. 

" It's a question of belief," he repeated, his tongue 
appearing and disappearing like a pointed shadow. " It's 
in the heart ; the power of the air gets into your whole 
being. Why should I show you ? Why should I ask my 
deity to persuade your scoffing little minds by any miracle ? 
For it is deity, I tell you, and nothing else. I know it. 
Follow one idea like that, as I follow my bird-idea — follow it 
with the impetus and undeviating concentration of a 
projectile — and you arrive at power. You know deity— 
the bird-idea of deity, that is. They knew that. The old 
Egyptians knew it." 

" Oh, show us, show us ! " they shouted impatiently, 
wearied of his nonsense-talk. " Get up and fly ! Levitate 
yourself, as they did ! Become a star ! " 

Binovitch turned suddenly very pale, and an odd light 
shone in his keen brown eyes. He rose slowly from the 
edge of the chair where he was perched. Something about 
him changed. There was silence instantly. 

" I will show you," he said calmly, to their intense 
amazement ; " not to convince your disbelief, but to prove 
it to myself. For the powers of the air are with me here. 
I believe. And Horus, great falcon-headed symbol, is my 
patron god." 

The suppressed energy in his voice and manner was 
indescribable. There was a sense of lifting, upheaving 
power about him. He raised his arms ; his face turned 
upward ; he inflated his lungs with a deep, long breath, and 
his voice broke into a kind of singing cry, half prayer, half 
chant : 



168 STRANGE STORIES 

" O Horus, 
Bright-eyed deity of wind, 

*Feather my soul 
Though earth's thick air, 
To know thy awful swiftness 



He broke off suddenly. He climbed lightly and swiftly 
upon the nearest table — it was in a deserted card-room, after 
a game in which he had lost more ponuds than there are 
days in the year — and leaped into the air. He hovered a 
second, spread his arms and legs in space, appeared to float a 
moment — then buckled, rushed down and forward, and 
dropped in a heap upon the floor, while everyone roared with 
laughter. 

But the laughter died out quickly, for there was some- 
thing in his wild performance that was peculiar ad unnusual. 
It was uncanny, not quite natural. His body had seemed, 
as with Mordkin and Nijinski, literally to hang upon the air 
a moment. For a second he gave the distressing impression 
of overcoming gravity. There was a touch in it of that 
faint horror which appals by its very vagueness. He 
picked himself up unhurt, and his face was as grave as a 
portrait in the Academy, but with a new expression in it 
that everybody noticed with this strange, half-shocked 
amazement. And it was this expression that extinguished 
the claps of laughter as wind takes away the sound of bells. 
Like many ugly men, he was an inimitable actor, and his 
facial repertory was endless and incredible. But this was 
neither acting nor clever manipulation of expressive 
features. There was something in his curious Russian 
physiognomy that made the heart beat slower. And that 
was why the laughter died away so suddenly. 

♦The original is untranslatable. The phrase means, " Give my life 
wings." 



THE WINGS OF HORUS 169 

" You ought to have flown farther," cried someone. It 
expressed what all had felt. 

" Icarus didn't drink champagne," another replied, with 
a laugh ; but nobody laughed with him. 

" You wetn too near to Vera," said Palazov, " and 
passion melted the wax." But his face twitched oddly as 
he said it. There was something he did not understand, and 
so heartily disliked. 

The strange expression on the features deepened. It was 
arresting in a disagreeable, almost in a horrible way. The 
talk stopped dead ; all stared ; there was a feeling of 
dismay in everybody's heart, yet unexplained. Some 
lowered their eyes, or else looked stupidly elsewhere ; but 
the women of the party felt a kind of fascination. Vera, in 
particular, could not move her sight away. The joking 
reference to his passionate admiration for her passed un- 
noticed. There was a general and individual sense of 
shock. And a chorus of whispers rose instantly : 

" Look at Binovitch ! What's happened to his face ? " 

" He's changed — he's changing ! " 

" God ! Why he looks like a— bird ! " 

But no one laughed. Instead, they chose the names of 
birds — hawk, eagle, even owl. The figure of a man leaning 
against the edge of the door, watching them closely, they 
did not notice. He had been passing down the corridor, had 
looked in unobserved, and then had paused. He had seen 
the whole performance. He watched Binovitch narrowly 
now with calm, discerning eyes. It was Dr. Plitzinger, the 
great psychiatrist. 

For Binovitch had picked himself up from the floor in a 
way that was oddly self-possessed, and precluded the least 
possibility of the ludicrous. He looked neither foolish nor 
abashed. He looked surprised, but also he looked half 
angry and half-frightened. As someone had said, he 



170 STRANGE STORIES 

"ought to have flown farther." That was the incredible 
impression his acrobatics had' produced — incredible, yet 
somehow actual. This uncanny idea prevailed, as at a 
stance where nothing genuine is expected to happen, and 
something genuine, after all, does happen. There was no 
pretence in this : Binovitch had flown. 

And now he stood there, white in the face — with terror 
and with anger white. He looked extraordinary, this little, 
neurasthenic Russian, but he looked at the same time half 
terrific. Another thing, not commonly experienced by 
men, was in him, breaking out of him, affecting directly the 
minds of his companions. His mouth opened ; blood and 
fury shone in his blazing eyes ; his tongue shot out like an 
ant-eater's, though even in this the comic had no place. 
His arms were spread like flapping wings, and his voice rose 
poignantly : 

" He failed me, he failed me ! " he tried to shout. " Horus 
my falcon-headed deity, my power of the air, deserted me ! 
Hell take him ! Hell burn his wings and blast his piercing 
sight ! Hell scorch him into dust for his false prophecies ! 
I curse him — I curse Horus ! " 

The voice that should have roared across the silent room 
emitted, instead, this high-pitched, bird-like scream. The 
added touch of sound, the reality it lent, was ghastly. Yet 
it was marvellously done and acted. The entire thing was a 
bit of instantaneous inspiration — his voice, his words, his 
gestures, his whole wild appearance. Only — here was the 
reality that caused the sense of shock— the expression on his 
altered features was genuine. That was not assumed. 
There was something new and alien in him, something cold 
and difficult to human life, something alert and swift and 
cruel, of another element than earth. A strange, rapacious 
grandeur had leaped upon the struggling features. The 
face looked hawk-like. 



THE WINGS OF HORUS 171 

And he came forward suddenly and sharply toward Vera, 
whose fixed, staring eyes had never once ceased to watch 
him with a kind of anxious yet eager fascination. She was 
both drawn and beaten back. Binovitch advanced on 
tiptoe. No doubt he still was acting, still pretending this 
mad nonsense that he worshipped Horus, the falcon- 
headed deity of forgotten days, and that Horus had failed 
him in his hour of need ; but somehow there was just 
a hint of too much reality in the way he moved and looked. 
The girl, a little creature, with fluffy golden hair, opened her 
lips ; her cigarette fell to the floor ; she shrank back ; she 
looked for a moment like some smaller, coloured bird trying 
to escape from a great pursuing hawk ; she screamed. 
Binovitch, his arms wide, his bird-like face thrust forward, 
had swooped upon her. He leaped. Almost he caught 
her. 

No one could say exactly what happened. Play, become 
suddenly and unexpectedly too real, confuses the emotions. 
The change of key was swift. From fun to terror is a 
dislocating jolt upon the mind. Someone — it was Khilkoff, 
the brother — upset a chair ; everybody spoke at once ; 
everybody stood up. An unaccountable feeling of disaster 
was in the air, as with those drinkers' quarrels that blaze 
out from nothing, and end in a pistol-shot and death, no one 
able to explain clearly how it came about. It was the 
silent, watching figure in the doorway who saved the situa- 
tion. Before anyone had noticed his approach, there he 
was among the group, laughing, talking, applauding — 
between Binovitch and Vera. He was vigorously patting 
his patient on the back, and his voice rose easily above the 
general clamour. He was a strong, quiet personality ; 
even in his laughter there was authority. And his laughter 
now was the only sound in the room, as though by his mere 
presence peace and harmony were restored. Confidence 



172 STRANGE STORIES 

came with him. The noise subsided ; Vera was in her chair 
again. Khilkoff poured out a glass of wine for the great 
man. 

" The Czar ! " said Plitzinger, sipping his champagne, 
while all stood up, delighted with his compliment and tact. 
" And to your opening night with the Russian ballet," he 
added quickly a second toast, " or to your first performance 
at the Moscow Theatre des Arts ! " Smiling significantly, 
he glanced at Binovitch ; he clinked glasses with him. 
Their arms were already linked, but it was Palazov who 
noticed that the doctor's fingers seemed rather tight upon 
the creased black coat. All drank, looking with laughter, 
yet with a touch of respect, toward Binovitch, who stood 
there dwarfed beside the stalwart Austrian and suddenly as 
meek and subdued as any mole. Apparently the abrupt 
change of key had taken his mind successfully off something 
else. 

" Of course — ' The Fire-Bird,' " exclaimed the little man, 
mentioning the famous Russian ballet. " The very thing !" 
he exclaimed. " For us" he added, looking with devouring 
eyes at Vera. He was greatly pleased. He began talking 
vociferously about dancing and the rationale of dancing. 
They told him he was an undiscovered master. He was 
delighted. He winked at Vera and touched her glass again 
with his. " We'll make our d^but together," he cried. 
" We'll begin at Covent Garden, in London. I'll design 
the dresses and the posters ' The Hawk and the Dove ! ' 
Magnifique ! I in dark grey, and you in blue and gold ! 
Ah, dancing, you know, is sacred. The little self is lost, 
absorbed. It is ecstasy, it is divine. And dancing in air — 
the passion of the birds and stars — ah ! they are the 
movements of the gods. You know deity that way — by 
living it." 

He went on and on. His entire being had shifted with a 



THE WINGS OF HORUS 173 

leap upon this new subject. The idea of realising divinity 
by dancing it absorbed him. The party discussed it with 
him as though nothing else existed in the world, all sitting 
now and talking eagerly together. Vera took the cigarette 
he offered her, lighting it from his own ; their fingers 
touched; he was as harmless and normal as a retired 
diplomat in a drawing-room. But it was Plitzinger whose 
subtle manoeuvring had accomplished the change so 
cleverly, and it was Plitzinger who presently suggested a 
game of billiards, and led him off, full now of a fresh 
enthusiasm for cannons, balls, and pockets, into another 
room. They departed arm in arm, laughing and talking 
together. 

Their departure, it seemed, made no great difference at 
first. Vera's eyes watched him out of sight, then turned to 
listen to Baron Minski, who was describing with gusto how 
he caught wolves alive for coursing purposes. The speed 
and power of the wolf, he said, was impossible to realise ; 
the force of their awful leap, the strength of their teeth, 
which could bite through metal stirrup-fastenings. He 
showed a scar on his arm and another on his lip. He was 
telling truth, and everybody listened with deep interest. 
The narrative lasted perhaps ten minutes or more, when 
Minski abruptly stopped. He had come to an end ; he 
looked about him ; he saw his glass, and emptied it. 
There was a general pause. Another subject did not at 
once present itself. Sighs were heard ; several fidgeted ; 
fresh cigarettes were lighted. But there was no sign of 
boredom, for where one or two Russians are gathered 
together there is always life. They produce gaiety and 
enthusiasm as wind produces waves. Like great children, 
they plunge whole-heartedly into whatever interest presents 
itself at the moment. There is a kind of uncouth gam- 
bolling in their way of taking life. It seems as if they are 



174 STRANGE STORIES 

always fighting that deep, under-lying, national sadness 
which creeps into their very blood. 

" Midnight ! " then exclaimed Palazov, abruptly, looking 
at his watch ; and the others fell instantly to talking about 
that watch, admiring it and asking questions. For the 
moment that very ordinary timepiece became the centre of 
observation. Palazov mentioned the price. " It never 
stops," he said proudly, " not even under water." He 
looked up at everybody, challenging admiration. And he 
told how, at a country house, he made a bet that he would 
swim to a certain island in the lake, and won the bet. He 
and a girl were the winners, but as it was a horse they had 
bet, he got nothing out of it for himself, giving the horse to 
her. It was a genuine grievance in him. One felt he could 
have cried as he spoke of it. " But the watch went all the 
time," he said delightedly, holding the gunmetal object in 
his hand to show, " and I was twelve minutes in the water 
with my clothes on." 

Yet this fragmentary talk was nothing but pretence. 
The sound of clicking billiard-balls was audible from the 
room at the end of the corridor. There was another pause. 
The pause, however, was intentional. It was not vacuity of 
mind or absence of ideas that caused it. There was another 
subject, an unfinished subject, that each member of the 
group was still considering. Only no one cared to begin 
about it, till at last, unable to resist the strain any longer, 
Palazov turned to Khilkoff, who was saying he would take a 
" whisky-soda," as the champagne was too sweet, and 
whispered something beneath his breath ; whereupon 
Khilkoff, forgetting his drink, glanced at his sister, shrugged 
his shoulders, and made a curious grimace. " He's all right 
now " — his reply was just audible — " he's with Plitzinger." 
He cocked his head sidewise to indicate that the clicking of 
the billiard-balls still was going on. 



THE WINGS OF HORUS 175 

The subject was out : all turned their heads ; voices 
hummed and buzzed ; questions were asked and answered 
or half answered ; eyebrows were raised, shoulders shrugged 
hands spread out expressively. There came into the atmo- 
sphere a feeling of presentiment, of mystery, of things half 
understood ; primitive, buried instinct stirred a little, the 
kind of racial dread of vague emotions that might gain the 
upper hand if encouraged. They shrank from looking 
something in the face, while yet this unwelcome influence 
drew closer round them all. They discussed Binovitch and 
his astonishing performance. Pretty little Vera listened 
with large and troubled eyes, though saying nothing. The 
Arab waiter had put out the lights in the corridor, and only a 
solitary cluster burned now above their heads, leaving their 
faces in shadow. In the distance the clicking of the 
billiard-balls still continued. 

" It was not play ; it was real," exclaimed Minski 
vehemently. " I can catch wolves," he blurted ; " but 
birds — ugh ! — and human birds ! " He was half inarticu- 
late. He had witnessed something he could not under- 
stand, and it had touched instinctive terror in him. " It 
was the way he leaped that put the wolf first into my mind, 
only it was not a wolf at all." The others agreed and 
disagreed. " It was play at first, but it was reality at the 
end," another whispered ; " and it was no animal he 
mimicked, but a bird, and a bird of prey at that ! " 

Vera thrilled. In the Russian woman hides that touch of 
savagery which loves to be caught, mastered, swept 
helplessly away, captured utterly and deliciously by the 
one strong enough to do it thoroughly. She left her chair 
and sat down beside an older woman in the party, who took 
her arm quietly at once. Her little face wore a perplexed 
expression, mournful, yet somehow wild. It was clear that 
Binovitch was not indifferent to her. 



176 STRANGE STORIES 

" It's become an idee fixe with him," this older woman 
said. " The bird-idea lives in his mind. He lives it in his 
imagination. Ever since that time at Edfu, when he 
pretended to worship the great stone falcons outside the 
temple — the Horus figures — he's been full of it." She 
stopped. The way Binovitch had behaved at Edfu was 
better left unmentioned at the moment, perhaps. A slight 
shiver ran round the listening group, each one waiting for 
someone else to focus their emotion, and so explain it by 
saying the convincing thing. Only no one ventured. 
Then Vera abruptly gave a little jump. 

" Hark ! " she exclaimed, in a staccato whisper, speaking 
for the first time. She sat bolt upright. She was listening. 
" Hark ! " she repeated. ." There it is again, but nearer 
than before. It's coming closer. I hear it." She trembled. 
Her voice, her manner, above all her great staring eyes, 
startled everybody. No one spoke for several seconds ; all 
listened. The halls and corridors lay in darkness, and 
gloom was over the big hotel. Everybody was in bed. But 
the clicking of the billiard-balls had ceased. 

" Hear what ? " asked the older woman soothingly, yet 
with a perceptible quaver in her voice, too. She was aware 
that the girl's hand tightened upon her arm. 

" Do you not hear it, too ? " the girl whispered. 

All listened without speaking. All watched her paling 
face. Something wonderful, yet half incomprehensible, 
seemed in the air about them. There was a dull murmur, 
audible, faint, remote, its direction hard to tell. It had 
come suddenly from nowhere. They shivered. That 
strange racial thrill again passed into the group, unwelcome, 
unexplained. It was aboriginal ; it belonged to the 
unconscious primitive mind, half childish, half terrifying. 

" What do you hear ? " her brother asked angrily — the 
irritable anger of nervous fear. 



THE WINGS OF HORUS 177 

" When he came at me," she answered very low, " I 
heard it first. I hear it now again. Listen ! He's 
coming." 

And at that minute, out of the dark mouth of the corridor, 
emerged two human figures, Plitzinger and Binovitch. 
Their game was over ; they were going up to bed. They 
passed the open door of the card-room. But Binovitch 
was being half dragged, half restrained, for he was appar- 
ently attempting to run down the passage with flying, 
dancing leaps. He bounded. It was like a huge bird 
trying to rise for flight, while his companion kept him down 
by force upon the earth. As they entered the strip of light, 
Plitzinger changed his own position, placing himself swiftly 
between his companion and the group in the dark corner of 
the room. He hurried Binovitch along as though he 
sheltered him from view. They passed into the shadows 
down the passage. They disappeared. And everyone 
looked significantly, questioningly, at his neighbour, 
though at first saying no word. It seemed that a curious 
disturbance of the air had followed them audibly. 

Vera was the first to open her lips. " You heard it 
then," she said breathlessly, her face whiter than the ceiling. 

" Damn ! " exclaimed her brother furiously. " It was 
wind against the outside walls — wind in the desert. The 
sand is driving." 

Vera looked at him. She shrank closer against the side 
of the older woman, whose arm was tight about her. 

" It was not wind," she whispered simply. 

She paused. All waited uneasily for the completion of 
her sentence. They stared into her face like peasants who 
expected a miracle. 

" Wings," she whispered. " It was the sound of wings." 

And at four o'clock in the morning, when they all returned 



178 STRANGE STORIES 

exhausted from their excursion into the desert, little 
Binovitch was sleeping soundly and peacefully in his bed. 
They passed his door on tiptoe. But he did not hear them. 
He was dreaming. His spirit was at Edfu, experiencing 
with that ancient deity who was master of all flying life 
those strange enjoyments upon which his own troubled 
human heart was passionately set. Safe with that mighty 
falcon whose powers his lips had scorned a few hours before, 
his soul, released in vivid dream, went sweetly flying. It 
was amazing, it was gorgeous. He skimmed the Nile at 
lightning speed. Dashing down headlong from the height 
of the great Pyramid, he chased with faultless accuracy a 
little dove that sought vainly to hide from his terrific 
pursuit beneath the palm trees. For what he loved must 
worship where he worshipped, and the majesty of those 
tremendous effigies had fired his imagination to the creative 
point where expression was imperative. 

Then suddenly, at the very moment of delicious capture, 
the dream turned horrible, becoming awful with the 
nightmare touch. The sky lost all its blue and sunshine. 
Far, far below him the little dove enticed him into nameless 
depths, so that he flew faster and faster, yet never fast 
enough to overtake it. Behind him came a great thing 
down the air, black, hovering, with gigantic wings out- 
stretched. It had terrific eyes, and the beating of its 
feathers stole his wind away. It followed him, crowding 
space. He was aware of a colossal beak, curved like a 
scimitar and pointed wickedly like a tooth of steel. He 
dropped. He faltered. He tried to scream. . 

Through empty space he fell, caught by the neck. The 
huge spectral falcon was upon him. The talons were in his 
heart. And in sleep he remembered then that he had 
cursed. He recalled his reckless language. The curse of 
the ignorant is meaningless ; that of the worshipper is real. 



THE WINGS OF HORUS 179 

This attack was on his soul. He had invoked it. He 
realised next, with a shock of ghastly horror, that the dove 
he chased was, after all, the bait that had lured him pur- 
posely to destruction . . . and awoke with a suffocating 
terror upon him, and his entire body bathed in icy per- 
spiration. Outside the open window he heard a sound of 
wings retreating with powerful strokes into the surrounding 
darkness of the sky. 

The nightmare made its impression upon Binovitch's 
impressionable and dramatic temperament. It aggravated 
his tendencies. He related it next day to Mme. de Driihn, 
the friend of Vera, telling it with that somewhat boisterous 
laughter some minds use to disguise less kind emotions. 
But he received no encouragement. The mood of the 
previous night was not recoverable ; it was already ancient 
history. Russians never make the banal mistake of 
repeating a sensation till it is exhausted ; they hurry on to 
novelties. Life flashes and rushes with them, never 
standing still for exposure before the cameras of their 
minds. Mme. de Driihn, however, took the trouble to 
mention the matter to Plitzinger, for Plitzinger, like Freud 
of Vienna, held that dreams revealed subconscious tendencies 
which sooner or later must betray themselves in action. 

" Thank you for telling me," he smiled politely ; " but I 
have already heard it from him." He watched her eyes a 
moment, really examining her soul. " Binovitch, you see," 
he continued, apparently satisfied with what he saw, " I 
regard as that rare phenomenon — a genius without an 
outlet. His spirit, intensely creative, finds no adequate 
expression. His power of production is enormous and 
prolific ; yet he accomplishes nothing." He paused an 
instant. " Binovitch, therefore, is in danger of poisoning — 
himself." He looked steadily into her face, as a man who 
weighs how much he may confide. " Now," he continued, 



180 STRANGE STORIES 

" i/we can find an outlet for him, a field wherein his bursting 
imaginative genius can produce results — above all, visible 
results " — he shrugged his shoulders — " the man is saved. 
Otherwise " — he looked extraordinarily impressive — "there 
is bound to be sooner or later " 

" Madness ? " she asked very quietly. 

" An explosion, let us say," he replied gravely. " For 
instance, take this Horus obsession of his, quite wrong 
archaeologically though it is. Aufond it is megalomania of 
a most unusual kind. His passionate interest, his love, his 
worship of birds, wholesome enough in themselves, find no 
satisfying outlet. A man who really loves birds neither 
keeps them in cages, nor shoots, nor stuffs them. What, 
then, can he do ? The commonplace bird-lover observes 
them through glasses, studies their habits, then writes a 
book about them. But a man like Binovitch, overflowing 
with this intense creative power of mind and imagination, is 
not content with that. He wants to know them from 
within. He wants to feel what they feel, to live their life. 
He wants to become them. . . . You follow me ? Not 
quite. Well, he seeks to be identified with the object of his 
sacred, passionate adoration. All genius seeks to know the 
thing-itself from its own point of view. It desires union. 
That tendency, unrecognised by himself, perhaps, and 
therefore subconscious, hides in his very soul." He paused 
a moment. " And the sudden sight of those majestic 
figures at Edfu — that crystallisation of his idee fixe in 
granite — took hold of this excess in him, so to speak — and is 
now focusing it toward some definite act. Binovitch 
sometimes — feels himself a bird ! You noticed what 
occurred last night ? " 

She nodded ; a slight shiver passed over her. 

" A most curious performance," she murmured ; " an 
exhibition I never want to see again." 



THE WINGS OF HORUS 181 

" The most curious part," replied the doctor coolly, " was 
its truth." 

" Its truth ! " she exclaimed beneath her breath. She 
was frightened by something in his voice and by the 
uncommon gravity in his eyes. It seemed to arrest her 
intelligence. She felt upon the edge of things beyond her. 
" You mean that Binovitch did for a moment — hang — in the 
air ? " The other verb, the right one, she could not bring 
herself to use. 

The great man's face was enigmatical. He talked to her 
sympathy, perhaps, rather than to her mind. 

" Real genius," he said smilingly, " is as rare as talent, 
even great talent, is common. It means that the person- 
ality, if only for one second, becomes everything ; becomes 
the universe ; becomes the soul of the world. It gets the 
flash. It is identified with the universal life. Being 
everything and everywhere, all is possible to it — in that 
second of vivid realisation. It can brood with the crystal, 
grow with the plant, leap with the animal and fly with the 
bird: genius unifies all three. That is the meaning of 
' creative.' It is faith. Knowing it, you can pass through 
fire and not be burned, walk on water and not sink, move a 
mountain, fly. Because you are fire, water, earth, air. 
Genius, you see, is madness in the magnificent sense of being 
superhuman. Binovitch has it." 

He broke off abruptly, seeing he was not understood. 
Some great enthusiasm in him he deliberately suppressed. . 

" The point is," he resumed, speaking more carefully, 
" that we must try to lead this passionately constructive 
genius of the man into some human channel that will absorb 
it, and therefore render it harmless." 

" He loves Vera," the woman said, bewildered, yet 
seizing this point correctly. 

" But would he marry her ? " asked Plitzinger at once. 



i82 STRANGE STORIES 

" He is already married." 

The doctor looked steadily at her a moment, hesitating 
whether he should utter all his thought. 

" In that case," he said slowly after a pause, " it is better 
he or she should leave." 

His tone and manner were exceedingly impressive. 

" You mean there's danger ? " she asked. 

" I mean, rather," he replied earnestly, " that this great 
creative flood in him, so curiously focussed now upon his 
Horus-falcon-bird idea, may result in some act of violence." 

" Which would be madness," she said, looking hard at 
him. 

" Which would be disastrous," he corrected her. And 
then he added slowly : " Because in the mental moment of 
creation he might overlook material laws." 

The costume ball two nights later was a great success. 
Palazov was a Bedouin, and Khilkoff an Apache ; Mme. de 
Driihn wore a national headdress ; Minski looked almost 
natural as Don Quixote ; and the entire Russian " set " 
was cleverly, if somewhat extravagantly, dressed. But 
Binovitch and Vera were the most successful of all the two 
hundred dancers who took part. Another figure, a big man 
dressed as a Pierrot, also claimed exceptional attention, for 
though the costume was commonplace enough, there was 
something of dignity in his appearance that drew the eyes 
.of all upon him. But he wore a mask, and his identity was 
not discoverable. 

It was Binovitch and Vera, however, who must have won 
the prize if prize there had been, for they not only looked 
their parts, but acted them as well. The former in his dark 
grey feather tunic, and his falcon mask, complete even to 
the brown hooked beak and tufted talons, looked fierce and 
splendid. The disguise was so admirable, yet so entirely 



THE WINGS OF HORUS 183 

natural, that it was uncommonly seductive. Vera, in blue 
and gold, a charming headdress of a dove upon her loosened 
hair, and a pair of little dove-pale wings fluttering from her 
shoulders, her tiny twinkling feet and slender ankles well 
visible, too, was equally successful and admired. Her large 
and timid eyes, her flitting movements, her light and dainty 
way of dancing — all added touches that made the picture 
perfect. 

How Binovitch contrived his dress remained a mystery, 
for the layers of wings upon his back were real ; the large 
black kites that haunt the Nile, soaring in their hundreds 
over Cairo and the bleak Mokattam Hills, had furnished 
them. He had procured them none knew how. They 
measured five feet across from tip to tip ; they swished and 
rustled as he swept along ; they were true falcons' wings. 
He danced with nautch girls and Egyptian princesses and 
Rumanian gipsies ; he danced well, with beauty, grace, and 
lightness. But with Vera he did not dance at all ; with her 
he simply flew. A kind of passionate abandon was in him 
as he skimmed the floor with her in a way that made 
everybody turn to watch them. They seemed to leave the 
ground together. It was delightful, an amazing sight; 
but it was peculiar. The strangeness of it was on many lips. 
Somehow its queer extravagance communicated itself to 
the entire ball-room. They became the centre of obser- 
vation. There were whispers. 

"There's that extraordinary bird-man! Look J He 
goes by like a hawk. And he's always after that dove-girl. 
How marvellously he does it ! It's rather awful. Who is 
he ? I don't envy her." 

People stood aside when he rushed past. They got out of 
his way. He seemed for ever pursuing Vera, even when 
dancing with another partner. Word passed from mouth 
to mouth. A kind of telepathic interest was established 



184 STRANGE STQRIES 

everywhere. It was a shade too real sometimes, something 
unduly earnest in the chasing wildness, something un- 
pleasant. There was even alarm. 

" It's rowdy ; I'd rather not see it ; it's quite disgrace- 
ful," was heard. " / think it's horrible ; you can see she's 
terrified." 

And once there was a little scene, trivial enough, yet 
betraying this reality that many noticed and disliked. 
Binovitch came up to claim a dance, programme clutched 
in his great tufted claws, and at the same moment the big 
Pierrot appeared abruptly round the corner with a similar 
claim. Those who saw it assert he had been waiting, and 
came on purpose, and that there was something protective 
and authoritative in his bearing. The misunderstanding 
was ordinary enough — both men had written her name 
against the dance— but " No. 13, Tango " also included the 
supper interval, and neither Hawk nor Pierrot would give 
way. They were very obstinate. Both men wanted her. 
It was awkward. 

" The Dove shall decide between us," smiled the Hawk 
politely, yet his taloned fingers working nervously. Pierrot, 
however, more experienced in the ways of dealing with 
women, or more bold, said suavely : 

" I am ready to abide by her decision " — his voice poorly 
cloaked this aggravating authority, as though he had the 
right to her— "only I engaged this dance before His 
Majesty Horus appeared upon the scene at all, and there- 
fore it is clear that Pierrot has the right of way." 

At once, with a masterful air, he took her off. There was 
no withstanding him. He meant to have her and he got 
her. Both yielding and resisting, she was swept away. 
They vanished among the maze of coloured dancers, leaving 
the Hawk, disconsolate and vanquished, amid the titters of 



THE WINGS OF HORUS 185 

the onlookers. His swiftness, as against this steady power, 
was of no avail. 

It was then that the singular phenomenon was witnessed 
first. Those who saw it affirm that he changed absolutely 
into the part he played. It was dreadful ; it was not 
possible. A frightened whisper ran about the rooms and 
corridors : 

" An extraordinary thing is in the air ! " 

Some shrank away, while others flocked to see. There 
were those who swore that a curious rushing sound was 
audible, the atmosphere visibly disturbed and shaken ; 
that a shadow fell upon the spot the couple had vacated ; 
that a cry was heard, a high, wild, searching cry : " Horus ! 
bright deity of wind," it began, then died away. One man 
was positive that the windows had been opened and that 
something had flown in. It was the obvious explanation. 
The thing spread rapidly. As in a fire panic, there was 
consternation and excitement. Confusion caught the feet 
of all the dancers. The music fumbled and lost time. The 
leading pair of tango dancers halted and looked round. It 
seemed that everybody pressed back, hiding, shuffling, 
eager to see, yet more eager not to be seen, as though some- 
thing unusual, dangerous, terrible, had broken loose. In 
rows against the wall they stood. For a great space had 
made itself in the middle of the ball-room, and into this 
empty space reappeared suddenly the Pierrot and the Dove. 

It was like a challenge. A sound of applause, half 
voices, half clapping of gloved hands, was heard. The 
couple danced exquisitely into the arena. All stared. 
There was an impression that a set piece had been prepared, 
and that this was its beginning. The music again took 
heart. Pierrot was strong and dignified, no whit non- 
plussed by this abrupt publicity. The Dove, though 
faltering, seemed deliciously obedient. They danced 

G 



1 86 STRANGE STORIES 

together like a single outline. She was captured utterly. 
And to the man who needed her the sight was naturally 
agonising — the protective way the Pierrot held her, 
the right and strength of it, the mastery, the complete 
possession. 

" He's still got her ! " someone breathed too loud, uttering 
the thought of all. " Good thing it's not the Hawk ! " 

And, to the absolute amazement of the throng, this sight 
was then apparent. A figure dropped through space. 
That high, shrill cry again was heard : 

" Feather my soul . . . to know thy awful swiftness ! " 

Its singing loveliness touched the heart, its appealing, 
passionate sweetness was marvellous, as from an upper 
gallery this figure of a man, dressed as a strong, dark bird, 
shot down with splendid grace and ease. The feathers 
swept ; the wings spread out as sails that take the wind. 
Like a hawk that darts with unerring power and aim upon 
its prey, this thing of mighty wings rushed down into the 
empty space where the couple danced. Observed, by all, 
he entered, swooping beautifully, stretching his wings like 
any eagle. He dropped. He fixed his point of landing 
with consummate skill close beside the astonished dancers. 
He landed. 

It happened with such swiftness that it brought the 
dazzle and blindness as when lightning strikes. People in 
different parts of the room saw different details ; a few saw 
nothing at all after the first startling shock, closing their 
eyes, or holding their arms before their faces as in self- 
protection. The touch of panic fear caught the entire 
room. The nameless thing that all the evening had been 
vaguely felt was come. It had suddenly materialised. 

For this incredible thing occurred in the full blaze of 
light upon the open floor. Binovitch, grown in some sense 
formidable, opened his dark, big wings about the girl. He 



THE WINGS OF HORUS 187 

drew her to him. The long grey feathers moved, causing 
powerful draughts of wind that made a rushing sound. An 
aspect of the terrible was about him, like an emanation. 
The great beaked head was poised to strike, the tufted 
claws were raised like fingers that shut and opened, and the 
whole presentiment of his amazing figure focussed in an 
attitude of attack that was magnificent and terrible. No 
one who saw it doubted. Yet there were those who swore 
that it was not Binovitch at all, but that another outline, 
monstrous and shadowy, towered above him, draping his 
lesser proportions with two colossal wings of darkness. 
That some touch of strange divinity lay in it may be 
claimed, however confused the wild descriptions afterward. 
For many lowered their heads and bowed their shoulders. 
There was terror. There was also awe. The onlookers 
swayed as though some power passed over them across the 
air. 

A sound of wings was certainly in the room. 

Then someone screamed j a shriek broke high and clear ; 
and emotion, ordinary human emotion, unaccustomed to 
terrific things, swept loose. The Hawk and Vera flew — the 
girl with willing happiness, the man with power. Beaten 
back against the wall as by a stroke of whirlwind, the 
Pierrot staggered. He watched them go. Out of the 
lighted room they flew, out of the 'crowded human atmo- 
sphere, out of the heat and artificial light, the walled-in, 
airless halls that were a cage. All this they left behind. 
They seemed things of wind and air, made free happily of 
another element. Earth held them not. Toward the 
open night they raced with this extraordinary lightness as 
of birds, down the long corridor and on to the southern 
terrace, where great coloured curtains were hung suspended 
from the columns. A moment they were visible. Then 
the fringe of one huge curtain, lifted by the wind, shewed 



188 STRANGE STORIES 

their dark outline for a second against the starry sky. 
There was a cry, a leap. The curtain flapped again and 
closed. They vanished. And into the ball-room swept the 
cold draught of night air from the desert. 

But three figures instantly were close upon their heels. 
The throng of half dazed, half stupefied onlookers, it seemed, 
projected them as though by some explosive force. The 
general mass held back, but, like projectiles, these three 
flung themselves after the fugitives down the corridor at 
high speed — the Apache, Don Quixote, and, last of them, 
the Pierrot. For Khilkoff, the brother, and Baron Minski, 
the man who caught wolves alive, had been for some time 
keenly on the watch, while Dr. Plitzinger, reading the 
symptoms clearly, never far away, had been faithfully 
observant of every movement. His mask tossed aside, the 
great psychiatrist was now recognised by all. They 
reached the parapet just as the curtain flapped back 
heavily into place ; the next second all three were out of 
sight behind it. Khilkoff was first, however, urged for- 
ward at frantic speed by the warning words the doctor had 
whispered as they ran. Some thirty yards beyond the 
terrace was the brink of the crumbling cliff on which the 
great hotel was built, and there was a drop of sixty feet to 
the desert floor below. Only a low stone wall marked the 
edge. 

Accounts varied. Khilkoff, it seems, arrived in time — in 
the nick of time — to seize his sister, virtually hovering on 
the brink. He heard the loose stones strike the sand below. 
There was a moment's violent struggle. She resisted the 
interference passionately and with all her strength at first. 
In a sense she was beside — outside— herself. And he did a 
characteristic thing ; he not only brought her back into 
the ball-room, but he danced, her back. It was admirable. 
Nothing could have calmed the general excitement better. 



THE WINGS OF HORUS 189 

The pair of them danced in together as though nothing was 
amiss. Accustomed to the strenuous practice of his Cos- 
sack regiment, this young cavalry officer's muscles were 
equal to the semi-dead weight in his arms. At most the 
onlookers thought her tired, perhaps. Confidence was 
restored — such is the psychology of a crowd — and in the 
middle of a thrilling Viennese waltz he easily smuggled her 
out of the room, administered brandy, and got her up to 
bed. . . . The absence of the Hawk, meanwhile, was 
hardly noticed ; comments were made and then forgotten ; 
it was Vera in whom the strange, anxious sympathy had 
centred. And, with her obvious safety, the moment of 
primitive, childish panic passed away. Don Quixote, too, 
was presently seen dancing gaily as though nothing un- 
toward had happened ; supper intervened ; the incident 
was over ; it had melted into the general wildness of the 
evening's irresponsibility. The fact that Pierrot did not 
appear again was noticed by no single person. 

But Dr. Plitzinger was otherwise engaged, his heart and 
mind and soul all deeply exercised. A death-certificate is 
not always made out quite so simply as the public thinks. 
That Binovitch had died of suffocation in his swift descent 
through merely sixty feet of air was not conceivable ; yet 
that his body lay so neatly placed upon the desert after 
such a fall was stranger still. It was not crumpled, it was 
not torn ; no single bone was broken, no muscle wrenched ; 
there was no bruise. There was no indenture in the sand. 
The figure lay sidewise as though in sleep, no sign of violence 
visible anywhere, the dark wings folded as a great bird folds 
them when it creeps away to die in loneliness. Beneath the 
Horus mask the face was smiling. It seemed he had 
floated into death upon the element he loved. And only 
Vera had seen the enormous wings that, hovering invitingly 
above the dark abyss, bore him so softly into another 



190 STRANGE STORIES 

world. Plitzinger, that is, saw them, too, but he said 
firmly that they belonged to the big black falcons that 
haunt the Mokattam Hills and roost upon these ridges, 
close beside the hotel, at night. Both he and Vera, how- 
ever, agreed on one thing : the high, sharp cry in the air 
above them, wild and plaintive, was certainly the black 
kite's cry — the note of the falcon that passionately seeks its 
mate. It was the pause of a second, when she stood to 
listen, that made her rescue possible. A moment later and 
she, too, would have flown to death with Binovitch. 



BY WATER 

THE night before young Larsen left to take up his new 
appointment in Egypt he went to the clairvoyante. He 
neither believed nor disbelieved. He felt no interest, for 
he already knew his past and did not wish to know his 
future. " Just to please me, Jim," the girl pleaded. 
" The woman is wonderful. Before I had been five minutes 
with her she told me your initials, so there must be some- 
thing in it." " She read your thought," he smiled in- 
dulgently. " Even I can do that ! " But the girl was in 
earnest. He yielded ; and that night at his farewell dinner 
he came to give his report of the interview. 

The result was meagre and unconvincing : money was 
coming to him, he was soon to make a voyage, and — he 
would never marry. " So you see how silly it all is," he 
laughed, for they were to be married when his first pro- 
motion came. He gave the details, however, making a 
little story of it in the way he knew she loved. 

" But was that all, Jim ? " The girl asked it, looking 
rather hard into his face. " Aren't you hiding something 
from me ? " He hesitated a moment, then burst out 
laughing at her clever discernment. " There was a little 
more," he confessed, " but you take it all so seriously ; 
I -" 

He had to tell it then, of course. The woman had told him 
a lot of gibberish about friendly and unfriendly elements. 
" She said water was unfriendly to me ; I was to be careful 
of water, or else I should come to harm by it. Fresh water 
only," he hastened to add, seeing that the idea of shipwreck 
was in her mind. 

191 



192 STRANGE STORIES 

" Drowning ? " came the question quickly. 

" Yes," he admitted with reluctance, but still laughing ; 
" she did say drowning, though drowning in no ordinary 
way." 

The girl's face showed uneasiness a moment. " What 
does that mean — drowning in no ordinary way ? " There 
was a catch in her breath. 

But that he could not tell her, because he did not know 
himself. He gave, therefore, the woman's exact words : 
" You will drown, but will not know you drown." 

It was unwise of him. He wished afterwards he had 
invented a happier report, or had kept this detail back. 
" I'm safe in Egypt, anyhow," he laughed. " I shall be a 
clever man if I can find enough water in the desert to do me 
harm ! " And all the way from Trieste to Alexandria he 
remembered the promise she had extracted — that he would 
never once go on the Nile unless duty made it imperative 
for him to do so. He kept that promise like the literal, 
faithful soul he was. His love was equal to the somewhat 
quixotic sacrifice it occasionally involved. Fresh water in 
Egypt there was practically none other, and in any case the 
natron works where his duty lay had their headquarters 
some distance out into the desert. The river, with its 
banks of welcome, refreshing verdure, was not even 
visible. 

Months passed quickly, and the time for leave came 
within measurable distance. In the long interval luck had 
played the cards kindly for him, vacancies had occurred, 
early promotion seemed likely, and his letters were full of 
plans to bring her out to share a little house of their own. 
His health, however, had not improved ; the dryness did 
not suit him ; even in this short period his blood had thinned, 
his nervous system deteriorated, and, contrary to the 
doctor's prophecy, the waterless air had told upon his sleep. 



BY WATER 193 

A damp climate liked him best. And once the sun had 
touched him with its fiery finger. 

His letters made no mention of this. He described the 
life to her, the work, the sport, the pleasant people, and his 
chances of increased pay and early marriage. And a week 
before he sailed he rode out upon a final act of duty to 
inspect the latest diggings his Company were making. His 
course lay some twenty miles into the desert behind El- 
Chobak towards the limestone hills of Guebel Haidi, and he 
went alone, carrying lunch and tea, for it was the weekly 
holiday of Friday, and the men were not at work. 

The accident was ordinary enough. On his way back in 
the heat of early afternoon his pony stumbled against a 
boulder on the treacherous desert film, threw him heavily, 
broke the girth, bolted before he could seize the reins 
again, and left him stranded some ten or twelve miles from 
home. There was a pain in his knee that made walking 
difficult, a buzzing in his head that troubled sight and made 
the landscape swim, while, worse than either, his provisions, 
fastened to the saddle, had vanished with the frightened 
pony into those blazing leagues of sand. He was alone in 
the Desert, beneath the pitiless afternoon sun, twelve miles 
of utterly exhausting country between him and safety. 

Under normal cnoditions he could have covered the 
distance in four hours, reaching home by dark ; but his 
knee pained him so that a mile an hour proved the best he 
could possibly do. He reflected a few minutes. The 
wisest course was to sit down and wait till the pony told its 
obvious story to the stable, and help should come. And 
this was what he did, for the scorching heat and glare were 
dangerous ; they were terrible ; he was shaken and 
bewildered by his fall, hungry and weak into the bargain ; 
and an hour's painful scrambling over the baked and 
burning little gorges must have speedily caused complete 

G* 



194 STRANGE STORIES 

prostration. He sat down and rubbed his aching knee. It 
was quite a little adventure. Yet, though he knew the 
Desert might not be lightly trifled with, he felt at the 
moment nothing more than this — and the amusing descrip- 
tion of it he would give in his letter, or — intoxicating 
thought — by word of mouth. In the heat of the sun he 
began to feel drowsy. He was exhausted. A soft torpor 
crept over him. He dozed. He fell asleep. 

It was a long, a dreamless sleep ... for when he woke 
at length the sun had just gone down, the dusk lay awfully 
upon the enormous desert, and the air was chilly. The cold 
had waked him. Quickly, as though on purpose, the red 
glow faded from the sky ; the first stars shone ; it was 
dark ; the heavens were deep violet. He looked round and 
realised that his sense of direction had gone entirely. 
Great hunger was in him. The cold already was bitter as 
the wind rose, but the pain in his knee having eased, he got 
up and walked a little — and in a moment lost sight of the 
spot where he had been lying. The shadowy desert 
swallowed it. " Ah," he realised, " this is not an English 
field or moor. I'm in the Desert ! " The safe thing to do 
was to remain exactly where he was ; only thus could the 
rescuers find him ; once he wandered he was done for. It 
was strange the search-party had not yet arrived. To 
keep warm, however, he was compelled to move, so he 
made a little pile of stones to mark the place, and walked 
round and round it in a circle of some dozen yards' diameter. 
He limped badly, and the hunger gnawed dreadfully ; but, 
after all, the adventure was not so terrible. The amusing 
side of it kept uppermost still. Though fragile in body, 
his spirit was not unduly timid or imaginative ; he could 
last out the night, or, if the worst came to the worst, the 
next day as well. But when he watched the little group of 
stones, he saw that there were dozens of them, scores, 



BY WATER 195 

hundreds, thousands of these little groups of stones. The 
desert's face, of course, is thickly strewn with them. The 
original one was lost in the first five minutes. So he sat 
down again. But the biting cold, and the wind that licked 
his very skin beneath the light clothing, soon forced him up 
again. It was ominous ; and the night huge and shelter- 
less. The shaft of green zodiacal light that hung so 
strangely in the western sky for hours had faded away ; the 
stars were out in their bright thousands ; no guide was 
anywhere ; the wind moaned and puffed among the sandy 
mounds ; the vast sheet of desert stretched mockingly 
upon the world ; he heard the jackals cry. . . . 

And with the jackals' cry came suddenly the unwelcome 
realisation that no play was in this adventure any more, 
but that a bleak reality stared at him through the surround- 
ing darkness. He faced it — at bay. He was genuinely 
lost. Thought blocked in him- " I must be calm and 
think," he said aloud. His voice woke no echo ; it was 
small and dead ; something gigantic ate it instantly. He 
got up and walked again. Why did no one come ? Hours 
had passed. The pony had long ago found its stable, or — 
had it run madly in another direction altogether ? He 
worked out possibilities, tightening his belt. The cold was 
searching ; he never had been, never could be warm again ; 
the hot sunshine of a few hours ago seemed the merest 
dream. Unfamiliar with hardship, he knew not what to do 
but he took his coat and shirt off, vigorously rubbed his skin 
where the dried perspiration of the afternoon still caused 
clammy shivers, swung his arms furiously like a London 
cabman, and quickly dressed again. Though the wind 
upon his bare back was biting, he felt warmer a little. He 
lay down exhausted, sheltered by an overhanging limestone 
crag, and took snatches of fitful dog's-sleep, while the wind 
drove overhead and the dry sand pricked his skin. One 



196 STRANGE STORIES 

face continually was near him ; one pair of tender eyes , 
two dear hands smoothed him ; he smelt the perfume of 
light brown hair. It was all natural enough. His whole 
thought, in his misery, ran to her in England — England 
where there was soft fresh grass, big sheltering trees, 
hemlock and honeysuckle in the hedges — while the hard 
black Desert guarded him, and consciousness dipped away 
at little intervals under this dry and pitiless Egyptian 
sky. ... 

It was perhaps five in the morning when a voice spoke 
and he started up with a sudden jerk — the voice of that 
clairvoyante woman. The sentence fled away into the 
darkness, but one word remained : Water ! At first, he 
wondered, but at once explanation came. Cause and effect 
were obvious. The clue was physical. His body needed 
water, and so the thought came up into his mind. He was 
thirsty. 

This was the moment when fear first really touched him. 
Hunger was manageable, more or less — for a day or two, 
certainly. But thirst ! Thirst and the Desert were an 
evil pair that, by cumulative suggestion gathering since 
childhood days, brought terror in. Once in the mind it 
could not be dislodged. In spite of his best efforts, the 
ghastly thing grew passionately — because his thirst grew 
too. He had smoked much ; had eaten spiced things at 
lunch ; had breathed in alkali with the dry, scorched air. 
He searched for a cool flint pebble to put into his burning 
mouth, but found only angular scraps of dusty limestone. 
There were no pebbles here. The cold helped a little to 
counteract, but already he knew in himself subconsciously 
the dread of something that was coming. What was it ? 
He tried to hide the thought and bury it out of sight. The 
utter futility of his tiny strength against the power of the 
universe appalled him. And then he knew. It was the 



BY WATER 197 

sun. The merciless sun was on the way, already rising. 
Its return was like the presage of execution. . . . 

It came. With true horror he watched the marvellous 
swift dawn break across the sandy sea. The eastern sky 
glowed hurriedly as from crimson fires. Ridges, not 
noticeable in the starlight, turned black in endless series, 
like flat-topped billows of a frozen ocean. Wide streaks of 
blue and yellow followed, as the sky dropped sheets of 
mauve light upon the wind-eaten cliffs and showed their 
under sides. They did not advance ; they waited till the 
sun was up — and then they moved ; they rose and sank ; 
they shifted as the sunshine lifted them and the shadows 
crept away. But in an hour there would be no shadows any 
more. There would be no shade. 

The little groups of stones began to dance. It was 
horrible. The unbroken, huge expanse lay round him, 
warming up, twelve hours of blazing hell to come. Already 
the monstrous Desert glared, each bit familiar, since each 
bit was a repetition of the bit before, behind, on either side. 
It laughed at guidance and direction. He rose and walked ; 
for miles he walked, though how many, north, south, or 
west, he knew not. The frantic thing was in him now, the 
fury of the Desert ; he took its pace, its endless, tireless 
stride, the stride of the burning, murderous Desert that is 
waterless. He felt it alive — a blindly heaving desire in it to 
reduce him to its conditionless, awful dryness. He felt — 
yet knowing this was feverish and not to be believed — that 
his own small life lay on its mighty surface, a mere dot in 
space, a mere heap of little stones. His emotions, his fears, 
his hopes, his ambition, his love — mere bundled group of 
little unimportant stones that danced with apparent 
activity for a moment, then were merged in the undiffer- 
entiated surface underneath. He was included in a purpose 
greater than his own. 



198 STRANGE STORIES 

The will made a plucky effort then. " A night and a 
day," he laughed, while his lips cracked smartingly with the 
stretching of the skin, " what is it ? Many a chap has 
lasted days and days . . . ! " Yes, only he was not of that 
rare company. He was ordinary, unaccustomed to priva- 
tion, weak, untrained of spirit, unacquainted with stern 
resistance. He knew not how to spare himself. The 
Desert struck him where it pleased — all over. It played 
with him. His tongue was swollen ; the parched throat 
could not swallow. He sank. ... An hour he lay there, 
just wit enough in him to choose the top of a mound where 
he could be most easily seen. He lay two hours, three, four 
hours. . . . The heat blazed down upon him like a furnace. 
. . . The sky, when he opened his eyes once, was empty 
. . . then a speck became visible in the blue expanse ; and 
presently another speck. They came from nowhere. 
They hovered very high, almost out of sight. They 
appeared, they disappeared, they — reappeared. Nearer 
and nearer they swung down, in sweeping stealthy circles 
... little dancing groups of them, miles away but ever 
drawing closer — the vultures. . . . 

He had strained his ears so long for sounds of feet and 
voices that it seemed he could no longer hear at all. Hear- 
ing had ceased within him. Then came the water-dreams, 
with their agonising torture. He heard that . . . heard it 
running in silvery streams and rivulets across green English 
meadows. It rippled with silvery music. He heard it 
splash. He dipped hands and feet and head in it — in deep 
clear pools of generous depth. He drank ; with his skin 
he drank, not with mouth and throat alone. Delicious ! 
Ice clinked in effervescent, sparkling water against a glass. 
He swam and plunged. Water gushed freely over back 
and shoulders, gallons and gallons of it, bathfuls and to 
spare, a flood of gushing, crystal, cool, life-giving liquid. 



BY WATER 199 

. . . And then he stood in a beech wood and felt the 
streaming deluge of delicious summer rain upon his face ; 
heard it drip luxuriantly upon a million thirsty leaves. 
The wet trunks shone, the damp moss spread its perfume, 
ferns waved heavily in the moist atmosphere He was 
soaked to the skin in it. A mountain torrent, fresh from 
fields of snow, dashed foaming past, and the spray fell in a 
shower upon his cheeks and hair. He dived — head fore- 
most. . . . Ah, he was up to the neck . . . and she was with 
him ; they were under water together ; he saw her eyes 
gleaming into his own beneath the copious flood. 

The voice, however, was not hers. ..." You will 
drown, yet you will not know you drown. . . . ! " His 
swollen tongue called out a name. But no sound was 
audible. He closed his eyes. There came sweet un- 
consciousness. . . . 

A sound in that instant was audible, though. It was a 
voice — voices — and the thud of animal hoofs upon the 
sand. The specks had vanished from the sky as mysteri- 
ously as they came. And, as though in answer to the 
sound, he made a movement — but an automatic, an 
unconscious movement. He did not know he moved. 
And the body, uncontrolled, lost its precarious balance. 
He rolled ; but he did not know he rolled. Slowly, over 
the edge of the sloping mound of sand, he turned sideways. 
Like a log of wood he slid gradually, turning over and 
over, nothing to stop him — to the bottom. A few feet 
only, and not even steep ; just steep enough to keep rolling 
slowly. There was a— splash. But he did not know there 
was a splash. 

They found him in a pool of water — one of these rare 
pools the Desert Bedouin mark preciously for their own. 
He had lain within three yards of it for hours. He was 
drowned . . . but he did not know he drowned. . . . 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 



OUR three-months' tour was drawing to its close — the 
Company playing in a midland town at the moment — 
and Forden was chatting with me in the wings during the 
second act, when Malahide's great voice boomed in my ears 
as he hurried to his entrance. It startled me ; the audience 
must surely hear it too. Forden gave me his quick smile, 
an understanding wink added to it. 

" Hubert, old man ! " cried the voice. " There's a place 
called Barton I want to see — Barton-in-Fabis. Let's go 
to-morrow. There's a train at 10.15. Forden, you come 
too ! " His eyes blazed at us with an odd glare through the 
grease-paint, his great shoulders swept round the canvas, 
and he was gone on to the stage, where at once his voice 
became audible in the lines that ten -weeks had made rather 
too familiar. 

I experienced a twinge of surprise. Walking was little to 
Malahide's taste. He usually spent his spare time playing 
golf, and in the afternoon he invariably slept for a couple of 
hours, so as to be rested for the evening performance. 
That he should propose a whole day's walk, therefore, was 
unexpected. 

My companion and I were left staring at each other. 

" Does he mean it — d'you think ? " I asked in a low 
voice. " It sounds such an odd name. You think it's 
real ? " I laughed a little. 

" A lovely name, though," came the whispered answer. 
'* It's real enough. Yes — I've heard of it " 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 201 

" Oh, you've heard of it ? " I interrupted, looking up at 
him. 

He nodded. Always absent-minded rather, he was also 
always truthful. An expression on his face now puzzled 
me. He looked perturbed. I repeated my remark, 
anxious to press him for some reason. 

" People make pilgrimages there — sometimes — I believe. 

There's an old church " Then his cue sounded, and he 

moved quickly away, but flinging over his shoulder, again 
with his quick smile, a final whisper : " Oh, it's real, yes, 
quite real. We'll go." 

So it was the church and the odd name that had caught 
Malahide's romantic fancy. Yet such a flat and empty 
name, I thought, without the adjunct, which alone gave it 
atmosphere. " In f abis," I gathered from one of the local 
supers, meant " among the beans," and Barton was a 
village "with a lot of historic interest," he informed me 
proudly. The name and the historic interest, evidently, 
had taken Malahide's vagrant fancy. He was an in- 
calculable fellow ; but he was not a man to ply with 
questions. His temper was insecure as a wayward child's. 
I, therefore, asked no questions. Forden, too, was an 
elusive creature, where questions were concerned. There 
are people who instinctively detest having to give definite 
information in reply to definite questions. All the more, 
then, was I surprised to hear Forden ask one of Malahide — 
about the expedition. We passed the latter's dressing- 
room as we left the theatre to walk home together, and the 
door was open. 

" Ten-fifteen, remember, Central Station," boomed 
Malahide, catching sight of us. " Single tickets to Stanton. 
We walk from Stanton." It again surprised me ; he had 
actually thought out details. 

It was then that Forden asked his question : 



202 STRANGE STORIES 

" I — I suppose," he ventured, faltering a trifle, " there's a 
train back all right ? " 

The evening performance of course, involved an early 
meal, and the question seemed so natural that I thought 
nothing, but Malahide looked up from pulling on his big 
boots as though it startled him. He seemed taken by 
surprise. His eyes held the same blaze, the touch almost of 
glare, I had noticed before, but the startled air was added. 

" We'll work round. What can it matter anyhow — 
provided we get there ? " was all he vouchsafed, and in a 
tone that did not invite cross-examination. 

So it was to be 10.15, with single tickets to Stanton, a 
walk thence to Barton among its Beans, with its old church 
and historic interest, and we were to " work round " to 
another station, and so home. Malahide had planned it all 
in advance. He wanted to go. Forden also wanted to go. 
It all seemed natural enough, ordinary, no exceptional 
feature anywhere about it beyond the trivial detail that 
Malahide did not care for walking as a rule. It is strange, 
therefore, that somewhere in my being lurked a firm 
conviction that the whole business was exceptional. For 
one thing, I felt sure that both Malahide and Forden did not 
really want to go. That they had to go, and meant to go, 
was the impression left upon my mind, not that either of 
them actually " wished " it. 

During our supper of cold tongue, salad and beer, for 
instance, we made no further allusion to the expedition. 
Rather than actually avoided, it was just tacitly assumed* 
Forden, I partly gathered, realised that I still did not quite 
believe in the Barton walk, but was too delicately loyal to 
discuss our friend's delightful irresponsibilities. In his own 
mind, too, I fancied, lay the thought that Malahide would 
not turn up, and that he would lose his morning's sleep for 
nothing, but that he meant to keep the rendezvous none the 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 203 

less. My fancy may have been quite wrong, yet this, 
anyhow, was Forden all over. He was of finest material, 
something transparent and a trifle exquisite in him ; and 
even when poorly cast — as in the present play — this 
quality shone beautifully through his acting. 

We went soon to bed v but Malahide kept late hours, and 
Forden and myself were asleep long before he turned in. In 
the morning, however, he was waiting at the station when 
we got there. He had left the hotel before us. " I've 
been to look at the churches," was his unexpected explan- 
ation. " One of 'em was open, and I went in and sat a bit. 
A wonderful atmosphere of peace and stillness. By Jove, it 
makes one think," and he gabbled on about the charm and 
atmosphere of an empty, ancient church. It was surprising, 
of course, and it left us without comment. Yet I had 
known him before in this odd mood — when he was 
frightened about something, frightened usually, of death. 
Malahide, I understood, was frightened now, and his 
thoughts, for some reason, ran on death. In his eyes, 
moreover, I noticed, though veiled a little, a trifle deeper 
down, the same blaze I had seen the night before. And all 
the way to Stanton he gazed out of the window, humming 
to himself, the heap of morning papers beside him all 
untouched. The criticisms of his own performance, as, 
■equally, mention of the Company, though of importance to 
the week's business, had, for once, no interest for him. 
His mind lay, evidently, upon other matters. He looked 
•extraordinarily happy — happier, I thought, than I had 
ever seen him before ; there was a careless indifference, a 
lightness, something, too, of a new refinement — to use a 
queer word his vehement personality did not ever suggest — 
I thought were new, yet all this lit, as from below, by the 
gleam of hidden fear I most certainly detected in him. 
And it was these contradictions, I think, these incom- 



204. STRANGE STORIES 

patibilities almost, that affected me so powerfully. Im- 
pressions began to pour and pour upon me. Emotions 
stirred. Things going on at a great speed in Malahide 
were things that I could not fathom. 

To me, this short train journey to Stanton, en route for 
Barton among its Beans, already had the spice of some- 
thing just a little unusual, of something a trifle forced. 
Unexpected touches played about it, as though a faint 
unknown light shone from the cloudless sky of that perfect 
April morning, but from beyond, it. Forden, behind the 
transparent mask of his rather beautiful face, betrayed 
more than his customary absent-mindedness, sometimes to a 
point I could have thought bewilderment. Each time I 
spoke to him — to Malahide I did not once address a word — 
he started a little. In him there was no attempt at adjust- 
ment, no analysis, no effort to explain or query. He 
asked himself, I am sure, no single question. Whatever 
life brought him he accepted always. He was receptive 
merely ; a recipient, but an extremely sensitive recipient, 
leaving all problems, all causes, to his God. Though 
without a formal creed, Forden was a deeply religious 
nature. And Forden now seemed to me — let me put it 
quite plainly as I felt it at the time— preparing, making 
himself ready, getting himself in hand, to meet something. 
Yes, to meet something — that is the phrase. And it was 
the search for this phrase, its discovery rather, that made 
me aware of an incomprehensible stress of subconscious 
excitement similarly in myself. 

We were a queer enough trio, it may be, even in our 
normal moments. In myself, at any rate, being of different 
build to both Malahide and Forden, numerous little wheels 
were already whirring, gathering speed with every minute. 
This whirring one usually calls excitement. My own 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 205 

personal reactions to what followed are all, of course, that I 
can report. Though caught up, more or less, with the 
other two, I remained always the observer, thus sharing 
only a small portion probably of what my companions 
experienced. Another man, of different calibre, placed as I 
was, might have noticed nothing. I cannot say. My 
problem is to report faithfully what I observed ; and 
whether another man would have observed the same thing, 
or nothing at all, is beside the mark. . . . Already before 
the train stopped at Stanton I felt — well, as if my feet did 
not quite touch the ground, and by the ground I mean the 
ordinary. It may, or may not, be an exaggeration to say 
that I felt both feet slightly off the earth. That my centre 
of gravity was shifting is, perhaps, the most truthful 
expression I can find. 

By the time we reached Stanton, at any rate, the whirring 
wheels had generated considerable heat, and with this heat 
playing all through my system I had already begun to see 
and feel in a way that was not quite the ordinary way. I 
perceived differently : I experienced, as it were, with a 
heightened consciousness. Perception seemed intensified a 
trifle ; but more than that, and chiefly, it seemed different. 

Different is the right adjective, I think. Malahide and 
Forden were " different " to the Malahide and Forden I 
knew comfortably from long acquaintance. Very, very 
slightly different, however, not radically so. I saw them 
from another angle. There was nothing I could seize or 
label. The instant my mind fastened on any detail, it was 
gone. The " difference " escaped me, leaving behind it a 
wonder of enquiry, a glow of curiosity I could not possibly 
define. 

One sentence, perhaps, can explain my meaning, both in 
reference to the men and to the inanimate things they 
moved among : I saw more of everything. . . . 



2o6 STRANGE STORIES 

The fields, through the carriage windows, were of freshest 
green, yellow with a million buttercups, sparkling still from 
a shower that had followed sunrise, and the surface of the 
earth lay positively radiant in its spring loveliness. It 
laughed, it danced, it wept, it smiled. Yet it was not with 
this my mind was occupied during the half-hour's run to 
Stanton, but rather with the being of my two companions. 
I made no effort to direct my thoughts. They flowed of 
their own accord, with poignant, affectionate emotions I 
could not explain, towards Malahide and Forden. . . . 



II 

Played about them, over them, these thoughts did, 
lovingly rather, and directed by a flair, so to say, of under- 
standing that was new in me. . . . 

Neither would ever see forty again, yet to me they 
seemed young, their careers still in front of them ; and 
each, though without much energy, groping a way honestly 
toward some ultimate meaning in life that neither, I 
fancied, was ever likely to discover. If not dilettanti, 
both shrank from the big sacrifices. They were married, 
and each, in this fundamental relationship, unsatisfied, 
though each, outwardly at least, had mastered that dis- 
satisfaction. Accepting, that is, a responsibility under- 
taken, they played the game. There was fine stuff in 
them. And both sought elsewhere, though without much 
energy as I have said, an outlet marriage had accordingly 
failed to provide. Not immorality, of course ; but a 
mental, maybe a spiritual, outlet. They sought it, I now 
abruptly judged, without success. Their stream of yearn- 
ing, whatever its power, went lost among the stars and 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 207 

unremunerative dreams. The point, however, remains : 
this yearning did exist in each. Its power, I conceive, was 
cumulative. 

Similarly, in their daily work as actors, and uncommonly 
good actors, one with a streak of fine inspiration, the other, 
Malahide, with a touch of fiery genius, both accepted an art 
that both held, mournfully, and secretly rather, was not 
creative. They were merely interpreters of other men's 
creations. And, here again, lay deep dissatisfaction. 
Here, indeed, lay the root and essence of a searching pain 
both shared — since, God knows, they were gifted, honest 
beings — that a creative outlet, namely, was denied to 
creative powers. 

This fundamental problem — the second one — lay un- 
solved in both ; hence both were open to attack and ready 
for adventure. But the lesser adventures, refuge of 
commonplace fellows, they resolutely declined. Were 
they, perhaps, worthy then of the greater adventure that 
circumstances, at length, with inexplicable suddenness, and 
out of the least likely material, offered to them . . .? 

Somewhat thus, at any rate, I saw my companions, as the 
train jolted us that sparkling April morning, many years 
ago, towards Stanton, Malahide humming his mood idly 
through the open window, Forden lying at full length, 
reading the papers with listless eye. But I saw another 
thing as well, saw it with a limpid clearness my description 
may not hold : something ahead — an event — lay in waiting 
for them, something they knew about, both not desiring, 
yet desiring it, something inevitable as sunrise. 

We move towards and past events successively, calling 
this motion time. But the event itself does not move at all. 
It is always there. We three, now sitting in the jolting 
carriage, were approaching an event about which they 
knew, but about which I did not know. I received, that is, 



208 STRANGE STORIES 

an imperfect impression of something they saw perfectly. 
And in some way the accumulated power of their combined 
yearnings, wasted as I had thought, made what happened 
possible. 

It was an extraordinary idea to come to me with such 
conviction, and with this atmosphere of prophecy. I 
glanced at the two men, each like myself the victim, I 
remembered, of a strange, unhappy weakness. These 
weakensses, too, I realised, contributed as well : un-balance, 
instability, were evidently necessary to the event. To 
steady, heroic types it never could have happened. 

The train was stopping, and Malahide already had the 
door half-open. Forden, in his turn, sprang up. 

" Stanton ! " cried the former, as though he spoke a line 
of tense drama on the stage. " Here we are. Come on, you 
fellows ! " And he was on the platform before the train 
drew to a standstill. His vehemence was absurd. He 
used it, I knew, to help him make the start, the fear I have 
mentioned prompting it. And Forden, like a flash, was on 
his heels. I followed, pausing a moment to collect the 
papers in case Malahide should ask for them, and then, 
thank heaven, as we stood on that ugly platform and asked 
the porter the way to Barton, my own strange feelings, 
heightened perception with them, dropped back with a jerk 
into the normal again. The uncomfortable insight was 
suddenly withdrawn. It had seemed an intrusion into 
their privacies ; I was relieved to see them again as two 
friends merely, two actors, out for a country walk with me 
to a village called Barton-in-Fabis on a brilliant April 
morning. 

One last flash only there was, as I followed them out, one 
final hint of what I have called " seeing more " of every- 
thing, seeing " differently," rather. The three of us left the 
carriage as described, in sequence ; yet to me it flashed with 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 209 

definite though illogical assurance that only one got out. 
Not that one was gone and two were left, but that the three 
of us got out as one, simultaneously. One being left that 
carriage. The fingers of a hand, thus, may move and point 
in several directions at once, while the hand, of which they 
form parts, moves forward in one direction only, as a whole. 
The simile occurred to me. ... I perceived it, moreover, 
through what I can only call a veil of smoke. 



Ill 

" Oh, about three to four mile, maybe," the porter was 
telling Malahide, " an' you can pick up the Midland at 
Attenborough to get back. . . . Yes, it's a nice day for a 
walk, I dessay. . . ." 

The name made us laugh, but the instructions as to paths, 
stiles, signposts, turnings, I, personally, did not listen to. I 
assumed, as most do, an air of intelligent comprehension. 
Forden, I saw, wore a similar expression, from which I 
knew that he, too, was not listening properly, but was 
leaving it to Malahide, wondering, like myself, how the 
latter could carry in his great slumbering mind so many 
intricate details whereas, actually, he was doing nothing of 
the sort. Malahide was merely acting, intent upon some 
other matter that was certainly not here and now. 

We started off, therefore, with but a few details of our 
journey secure : — " a mile and a half down the road, and 
bearin' to the right, you'll see a signpost to Barton across 
the fields, and if you foller that a little way, bearin' to the 
left a bit now, you'll see a gate on the right just past some 
trees, but you don't go through that gate, you go straight on, 
bearin' to the right always, till you come to a farm, and 
then, through another gate . . ." 



2io STRANGE STORIES 

There was a definite relation between the length of 
description and a tip in the porter's mind, upon which 
Forden commented wittily, as we swung down the road, 
each relying upon the other two, and then exclaiming 
confidently, but with blurred minds, as we reached a 
signpost : " Ah ! Here we are ! " while we scrambled over 
a stile into enticing fields of gold. 

We spoke little at first. " We must bear to the left, 
remember," mentioned Malahide once, to which Forden 
and I nodded agreement, adding however : " till we reach 
the gate," with Malahide's firm reminder : " which we do 
not go through," followed by my own contribution : " past 
some trees, yes, to another gate," — and then Malahide's 
conclusive summing up : " always bearing to the right, of 
course . . ." 

We jogged on happily, while the larks sang overhead, the 
cuckoos called and the brilliant sunshine flooded a country- 
side growing more and more remote from signs of men and 
houses. Not even a thatched cottage or a farm-house 
broke the loneliness from human kind. . . . 

We spoke little, I have said ; but my companions, 
presently, fell into a desultory conversation about their 
own profession, about present and future conditions on the 
stage, individual talent, rents of theatres, and so forth, to 
all of which, being an interloper merely, I listened with 
slight interest. It was the odd smell of burning, I think, 
that held my curious attention during this preliminary 
period, for I saw no cause for it, no smoke of rubbish being 
consumed, no heath-fire certainly. Malahide, I remember, 
coughed a little once or twice, and Forden sniffed like an 
animal that scents an untoward element in the atmosphere, 
though very faintly. They made no comment, I offered 
none. It was, obviously, of no importance. The beauty 
of the day in its fresh spring brilliance absorbed me wholly, 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 211 

so that my thoughts ran on of their own accord, floating on 
a stream of happy emotion, careless as the pleasant wind. 
The sentences I caught from time to time did little more 
than punctuate, as it were, this stream of loveliness that 
poured through me from the April morning. Yet at 
intervals I caught their words, a phrase or a sentence 
would arrest me for a second ; and each time this happened, 
I noticed what I can only call a certain curious change, a 
change — in distance. Their talk, I mean, passed gradually 
beyond me. 

There was incoherence, due partly, of course, to the gaps I 
missed ; and once or twice, it seemed to me, they were 
talking at cross-purposes, although tone and demeanour 
betrayed nothing of the sort. I remember that this 
puzzled me, that I registered the fact vaguely, at any rate ; 
also, that an occasional comment of my own won no re- 
joinder from either Malahide or Forden — almost as though, 
momentarily, they had forgotten my existence and seemed 
unaware that I was with them. 

Deeper and deeper into my own sensuous enjoyment of 
the day I sank accordingly, glad that I might take the 
beauty in my own little way. One thing only pierced my 
personal mood from time to time : the picture of Malahide's 
great head thrust forward a little when I glanced at him, the 
eyes turned upwards, carrying in them still that odd soft 
blaze, the glare, as I called it, now wholly gone ; and that 
upon Forden's delicate face was a gentle expression, 
curiously rapt, yet with a faint brush as of bewilderment 
somewhere among the peering features. This impression, 
however, came back to me later, rather than held my 
attention much at the actual moment. We moved on 
deeper and deeper into the lonely country-side. With the 
exception of a man some fields ahead of us, I saw no living 
soul. 



212 STRANGE STORIES 



IV 



Our path, meanwhile, crossed a lane, and a little later a 
road, though not a high-road since no telegraph poles 
marred it, and then Malahide remarked casually : " But, I 
say ! It's about time, isn't it ? " He stood still abruptly, 
staring round him. " It's about time — eh ? " 

" For what ? " enquired Forden gently, not looking at 
him, a touch of resignation in his voice. 

" That signpost, I mean. We should have come to it by 
now." 

" Oh, that signpost," echoed the other, without in- 
terest. 

Neither of them included me in this exchange, which had 
broken in upon a longish conversation, and I found myself 
resenting it. They had not so much as glanced in my 
direction. 

" Signpost ! " I exclaimed bluntly, looking straight at 
Malahide. " Why, we passed it long ago." And as I said 
it, my eye again took in the figure of the man three fields 
away, the only living being yet seen. Out of the corner of 
my eye I saw him merely, and a breath of sharper air, or 
something like it, passed quickly over my skin. " It said 
' To Barton,' " I added, a flavour of challenge in my tone. 
I purposely kept my gaze hard on Malahide. 

He turned slowly, with a look as though, casually, he 
picked me up again ; our eyes met ; that sharper air 
seemed in my mind now. 

" We passed a signpost," he corrected me ; " but it 
merely said ' Footpath.' And it pointed over there — 
behind us. The way we've come." 

Forden, to my amazement, nodded in consent. " Over 
there, yes," he agreed, and pointed with his stick, but at 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 213 

right angles to the direction Malahide had meant. " And it 
said : ' From Barton.' " 

This confusion, produced purposely and in a spirit of play- 
though of course it was, annoyed me. I disliked it, as 
though somewhere it reached a sad, uneasy region in my 
mind. 

It was Malahide's turn to nod in consent. " Then we're 
all right," he affirmed with unnecessary vehemence in his 
deep voice. And that vehemence, again, I did not like. 
" Besides," he added sharply, pointing ahead, " there he 
is!" 

A wave of vague emotion troubled me ; for an instant I 
felt again that sharper air — and this time in the heart. 

" Who ? " I asked quickly. 

He replied carelessly : " The man." 

" What man ? " 

Malahide turned his eyes full upon my own, so that their 
soft blaze came over me like sunshine, almost with a sense of 
warmth in them. On his great face lay a singular ex- 
pression. I heard Forden, who stood just behind me, 
laughing gently. There seemed a drift of smoke about 
them both. I knew a touch of goose-flesh. 

" What man do you mean ? " I asked with louder 
emphasis, and this time, I admit, with a note of exasperation 
that would not be denied, for the nonsense, I thought, had 
gone far enough, and there was a flavour in it that set my 
nerves on edge. 

Malahide's reply came easily and naturally : " The man 
who plants them," he said without a smile. " He sticks 
them into the ground, that fellow. He's going about with 
an assortment of signposts ' To and From Barton,' and 
every now and again he plants one for us." 

" We're standing under one now," Forden breathed 
behind me in his purring way, p and looking up I saw that 



214 STRANGE STORIES 

this was true. I read in black lettering upon a white 
background : " To Barton." It indicated the direction we 
were taking. 

It occurred to me suddenly now that we had already 
walked at least four miles, yet had seen no farm, no trees, 
no garden. I had been sunk too deep in my own mood to 
notice things perhaps. This signpost I certainly had not 
noticed until Forden drew my attention to it. Malahide 
was tapping the wooden arm with the point of his stick, 
reading the lettering aloud as he did so : 

" ' Footpath From Barton,' " I heard him boom. And 
instantly my eyes fixed tightly on it with all the concen- 
tration that was in me. Yes, Malahide had read correctly. 
Only, the arm now swung the other way. It pointed 
behind us ! And I burst out laughing. Sight and memory 
had, indeed, fumbled badly. I felt myself for a moment 
" all turned round," as the saying is. Malahide laughed 
too ; we all laughed together. It was boisterous, not 
quite spontaneous laughter, but at any rate it relieved a 
sense of intolerable tension that in myself had reached a 
climax. This fooling had been overdone, I felt. 

" So, you see, we are all right," Malahide exclaimed, and 
swung forward over the meadow, already plunged again in 
the conversation with Forden which he himself had inter- 
rupted. They had enjoyed their little game about the 
signposts, Malahide, in particular, his touch of fancy about 
" the man who planted them." It all belonged to the 
careless, happy mood of a holiday expedition, as it were — 
the nonsense of high spirits. This, at least, was the ready 
explanation my mind produced so glibly, knowing full well 
it would not pass the censor of another kind of understand- 
ing, a deeper kind, that sought hurriedly, even passionately, 
for the true explanation. It was not nonsense ; nor was it 
acceptable. It alarmed me. 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 215 

I repeat : this confusion about directions, the two men 
agreeing that opposite directions were one and the same, 
was not the nonsense that it sounds ; and I affirm this in 
view of that heightened perception, already first experienced 
in the train, which now came back upon me in a sudden 
flood. It brought with it an atmosphere of prophecy, 
almost of prevision, and certainly of premonition, an 
atmosphere that accompanied me, more or less, with 
haunting persistence to the end. 

And its first effect was singular : all that a man says, I 
now became aware, has three meanings, and not merely one. 
The revelation arrived as clearly as though it were whispered 
to me through the shining air. There is the literal meaning 
of the actual words ; there is the meaning of the sentence 
itself ; and there is the meaning, above and beyond both 
these, in which the whole of the utterer is concerned, a 
meaning, that is, which the unconscious secret part in him — 
the greater part — tries and hopes to say. This last, the 
most significant of all three, since it includes cause as well as 
result, makes of every common sentence a legend and a 
parable. Gesture, tone of voice betray its trend ; what is 
omitted, or between the lines, betrays still more. Its full 
meaning, being in relation to unknown categories, is usually 
hidden both from utterer and hearers. It deals simultane- 
ously with the past, the present and — the future. I now 
became aware of this Third Meaning in the most common- 
place remarks of my companions. 

It was an astounding order of perception to occur to me, 
and the difficulty of reporting it must be obvious from this 
confused description. Yet it seemed to me at the time so 
simple, so convincing, that I did not even question its 
accuracy and truth. Malahide and Forden, fooling 
together about the contradictory signposts, had betrayed 
this third meaning in all they said and did. Indeed, that it 



2i6 STRANGE STORIES 

appeared impossible, absurd, was a proof, perhaps the only 
possible proof, of its reality. Momentarily, as it were, they 
had become free of unknown categories. 



My own attitude contained at first both criticism and 
resistance; it was only gradually that I found myself 
caught in the full tide that, apparently, swept my com- 
panions along so easily. A first eddy of it had touched nut 
in the train, when my feet felt a little " off the earth " ; now 
I was already in the bigger current ; before long I had 
become entirely submerged with them. . . . Fields and 
lanes, meanwhile, slipped rapidly behind us, but no farm, no 
trees, no gate, as the porter described, had been seen. We 
were lost, it seemed, in the heart of the sparkling April day ; 
dew, light and gentle airs our only guides. The day 
contained us. 

I made efforts to disentangle myself. 

" Barton's not getting any nearer," I expostulated once. 

" Barton-in-Fabis," mentioend Malahide with complete 
assurance, that no longer held a trace of vehemence, " is 
there — where it always is," while Forden's breath of 
delicate laughter followed the flat statement, as though the 
larks overhead had sung close beside my ear. 

" D'you think we're going right ? " I ventured another 
time. " Our direction, I mean ? " 

Again, with that ghostly laughter, Forden met me : " It's 
the way we have to go," he replied half under his breath. 
" It's always a mistake to trouble too much about direction 
— actual direction, that is." And Malahide was singing to 
himself as though nothing mattered in the world, details as 
to direction least of all. ... It was just after this, I 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 217 

remember, as our lane came to a stile and we leaned over it 
comfortably, all three, that the odour of burning touched 
my mind again, only with it, at the same time, a sight so 
moving, that I paused in thought, catching my breath a 
little. For the field before us sloped down into the distance, 
ancient furrows showing just beneath the surface like the 
flowing folds of a shaken carpet. They ran, it seemed, 
like streams. Their curve downhill lent this impression of 
movement. They were of gold. Every inch of the 
surface was smothered with the shimmering cream of a 
million yellow buttercups. 

" Rivers of Gold ! " I exclaimed involuntarily, and at the 
same moment Forden was over the stile in a single leap and 
running across the brilliant grass. 

" Look out ! " he cried, a bewitched expression on his 
face, " it's fire ! " — and he was gone. 

It was as though he swam to the neck in gleaming gold. 
He peered back at me a second through the shining flood — 
and it was in this instant, just as I caught his turning face, 
that Malahide was after him. He passed me like a wave, 
still singing ; there was a rush of power in his speed. I 
followed at once, unable to resist. The three of us ran like 
one man over and through that flood of golden buttercups, 
passing, as we did so, every sign the railway porter had told 
us to look out for : the farm, the trees, the gate, the second 
gate — everything. Only, we passed them more than once. 
It was as though we swung in a rapid circle round and 
round the promised signs, always passing them, always 
coming up to them, always leaving them behind, then 
always seeing them in front of us again, yet the entire 
sequence right, natural and — possible. 

Now, I noticed this. I was aware of this. Yet it caused 
me no surprise. That it should be so seemed quite ordinary 
— at the time. . . . 



218 STRANGE STORIES 

We brought up presently, not even breathless, some 
half-way down that golden field. 

"Nothing to what I expected," exclaimed Malahide, 
interrupting his singing for the first time. 

" There was no pain," mentioned Forden, his voice soft 
and comforting, as though he spoke to a little child. 

There was an instant of most poignant emotion in me as 
they said it ; a certainty flashed through me that I could 
not seize ; a sudden wave, as it were, of tears, of joy, of 
sorrow, of despair, swept past me and was gone again 
before I had the faintest chance to snatch at any explanation. 
Like the memory of some tremendous, rather awful dream, 
it vanished, and Malahide's quick remark, the next second, 
capped its complete oblivion : 

"And there he goes again!" I heard. "He's stuck 
another one in ! " 

He was pointing to a hedge at the bottom of the field 
where, behind the veil of its creamy hawthorn, I just made 
out the figure of a man ambling slowly along, till the hedge, 
growing thicker, finally concealed him. But the signpost, 
when we reached it a few minutes later, showed an arm 
rotten with age, and only the faded legend on it, hardly 
legible: "Footpath." It pointed downwards— into the 
ground. 



VI 

We swung forward again, without a moment's delay, 
it seemed, my companions talking busily together as before, 
their meaning, also as before, far, far beyond me. They 
were talking, too, on several subjects at once. The odd 
language they had just used, the way we swung forward 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 219 

instantly, without comment or explanation, touched no 
sense of queerness in me — then. No comment or ex- 
planation were necessary; it was natural we should go 
straight on. Their talking on " several subjects simultane- 
ously," however, did occur to me — yes, as marvellous. 

Foolish, even impossible, as it must sound, it yet did 
happen ; they talked on more than one subject at the same 
time. They carried on at least a couple of conversations at 
once without the slightest difficulty, without the smallest 
effort or confusion. My own admission into the secret was 
partial, I think ; hence my trouble and perplexity. To 
them it was easy and natural. With me, even the strain of 
listening made the head swim. The effort to follow them 
was certainly a physical one, for I was aware of a definite 
physical reaction more than once, almost indeed of a kind of 
dizziness akin to nausea. 

To report it is beyond my power. For one thing, I 
cannot remember, for another, the concentration necessary 
left me a little stupefied. I can give an instance only, and 
that a poor one. They used " third meanings," too. 

Malahide, thus, while voluble enough in his normal state, 
was at the same time usually inarticulate. His verbosity, 
that is, conveyed little. The tiny vital meaning in him 
fumbled and stammered through countless wrappings, as it 
were. These wrappings smothered it. Now, on the 
contrary, he talked fluently and clearly. It was I who was 
puzzled — at first — to find the subject he discussed so glibly. 
And Forden, usually timid and hesitating in his speech, 
though never inarticulate, now also used a flow of fearless 
words in answer. Yet not precisely " in answer," for both 
men talked at once. They uttered simultaneously — on 
two subjects, if not on three : 

"We all deserve, maybe," Malahide's deep voice 
thundered, " a divine attention few of us receive — God's 



22o STRANGE STORIES 

pity. We are not, alas, whole-hearted. Few of us, 
similarly, deserve another compliment, due to splendour — 
the Devil's admiration." 

His voice, for once, was entirely natural, unselfconscious. 
There was the stress of real feeling and belief in what he 
said. 

" I for one," he went on, " I take my hat off to the 
whole-hearted, whether in so-called good or evil. For of 
such stuff are eventual angels wrought . . ." 

Angels I The word caught me on the raw. Its " third 
meaning " caught me on the raw, that is, and with a sense of 
power and beauty so startling that I missed the rest. The 
word poured through me like a flame. Of what he spoke, to 
•what context the strange statement was related, I had no 
inkling; yet, while he actually spoke the words, I heard 
Forden speaking to Malahide, who heard and understood 
and answered- — but speaking, and simultaneously, on 
another matter altogether. And this other matter, it 
so chanced, I grasped. Remote enough from what Malahide 
was saying, and trivial by comparison, it referred to an 
Alpine sojourn with his wife a couple of summers before. 
Malahide, too, had been with them : 

" Often, after the hotel dinner," Forden said contemptu- 
ously, " I heard them mouthing all sorts of lovely poetic 
phrases ; yet not one of them would make the slight 
sacrifice of personal comfort necessary to experience that 
loveliness, that poetry, in themselves . . ." 

To which Malahide, though still developing " God's 
pity " and the " Devil's admiration " in phrases packed 
with real feeling, contrived somehow to answer, but always 
simultaneously, his friend's remark : 

" They bring their own lower world," he boomed, " even 
into the beauty of the mountains, then wonder that the 
beauty of the mountains tells them nothing. They would 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 221 

find Balham on great Betelgeuse " — a tremendous laugh 
rang out — " and Clapham Junction on fiery Vega ! " 

" Her pity," came Forden's words, talking of another 
matter altogether, yet uttered simultaneously with his 
friend's laughing rhetoric, " is self-pity merely. She does 
these out-of-the-way things, you see, without sufficient 
apparent reason. It is not a desire for notoriety — that 
would shock her — but it is a desire to be conspicuous. 
Life, which means people, did not make a fuss about her in 
her youth. But the law of compensation works inevitably. 
Late in life, you see, she means to have that fuss . . ." 

It is the phraseology, perhaps, that enables me to 
remember this singular exchange. My head, of course, 
was spinning. For Malahide made a reply to this, while 
still discussing the poseurs in the Alpine hotel. And while 
they talked thus on two subjects simultaneously, Forden 
managed to chat easily too with me — upon a third. ... It 
was as though a second dimension in time had opened for 
them. Between myself and Forden, again, there was 
plainly some kind of telepathic communication. He had 
my thought, at any rate, before I uttered it aloud. 

Of this I can give two instances, both trivial, yet showing 
that simultaneously with his Malahide-conversations he 
was paying attention to my own remarks, and — simul- 
taneously again — was answering them. It was absolutely 
staggering. 

Here are the instances memory retained : 

Some scraps of white paper, remnants of an untidy 
picnic party, lay fluttering in the thick grass some distance 
in front of us, and at the first glance I thought they were not 
paper, but — chickens. Only on coming nearer was the 
mistake clear. Whether I meant to comment aloud on the 
little deception, or not, I cannot remember ; but in any 
case, before I actually did so, Forden, glancing down at me 



222 STRANGE STORIES 

with his gentle smile, observed : " I, too, thought at first 
they were chickens." He hit them idly with his stick as we 
passed. 

The second instance, equally trivial, equally striking at 
the same time, was the gamekeeper's cottage on the fringe 
of a wood. It suggested to my mind, for some reason, a 
charcoal-burner's but in a book of German fairy-tales, and I 
said so. This time I spoke my thought. " But, you know, 
I've just said that," came Forden's comment, his eyes 
twinkling brightly as before. And it was true ; he had 
said it a fraction of a second before I did. During this 
brief exchange between us, moreover, he was still talking 
fluently with Malahide — on at least two subjects — and 
simultaneously. . . . Now, from the fact that I noticed 
this, that my mind made a note of it, that is, I draw the 
conclusion that my attention was definitely arrested, 
surprise accompanying it. The extraordinariness of the 
matter struck me, whereas to my companions it was 
ordinary and natural. I was, therefore, not wholly 
included in their marvellous experience. I was still the 
observer merely. . . . 

Immediately following the telepathic instances with 
Forden, then, came a flash of sudden understanding, as 
though I were abruptly carried a stage deeper into their own 
condition : 

I discerned one of the subjects they discussed so earnestly 
together. 

This came hard upon a momentary doubt — the doubt 
that they were playing, half-fooling me, as it were. Then 
came the swift flash that negatived the doubt. I can 
only compare it to the amazing review of a man's whole life 
that is said to flash out in a moment of extreme danger. 
This quality, as of juggling with Time, belonged to it. 

Malahide and Forden, then, I realised, were talking 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 223 

together of Woman, of women, rather, but of individual 
women. Ah ! the flash grew brighter : of their own wives. 
Yet that Malahide spoke of Forden's wife and that Forden 
discussed Mrs. Malahide. Each had the free entree into the 
other's mind, and what each was too loyal to say about his 
own wife, the other easily said for him. This swiftest 
telepathic communication, as with myself and Forden, 
they enjoyed between themselves. With supreme ease it 
was accomplished. 

It was an astounding performance. This discussion of 
their wives was actually, of course, a discussion of — well, 
not of Mary Forden and Jane Malahide individually, but, 
through them, of the deep unsolved problem of mate and 
sex which each man had faced in his own life — unsuccess- 
fully. The fragments I caught seemed meaningless, 
because the full context was lacking for me. I got a glim- 
mer of their Third Meanings, however, and realised one 
thing, at any rate, clearly : they were giving one another 
help. Forden's honeymoon, I remembered, had been spent 
in the Alps, whereas Malahide's wife had the lack of pro- 
portion which made her conspicuous by a pose of startling 
originality. This gave me a clue. Time, however, as a 
sequence of minutes, days and years, did not trouble either 
speaker. The entire matter, regardless of past and present, 
seemed spread out like a contour-map beneath the eyes of 
their inner understanding. There was no picking out one 
characteristic, dealing with it, then passing on to consider 
another. To me it came, seriatim, in that fashion, but they 
saw the matter whole and all at once ; so rapidly, so 
comprehensively, too, that the sentences flew upon each 
other's heels as though uttered simultaneously by each 
speaker. 

They were it seemed, poised above the landscape of their 
daily lives, and in such a way that they were able to realise 



224 STRANGE STORIES 

present, past and future simultaneously. It was no 
longer exactly " to-day," it was no longer necessarily 
" to-day." Temporarily they had escaped from the iron 
tyranny of being fastened to a particular hour on a particular 
day. They — and partially myself with them — were no 
longer chained by the cramping discipline of a precise 
moment in time, any more than a prisoner, his chains filed 
off, is fixed to a precise spot in his dungeon. Where we 
were in time, God knows. It might have been yesterday, 
it might have been to-morrow — any yesterday, any to- 
morrow — which we now realised simultaneously with the 
so-called present. It happened to be — so I felt — a partic- 
ular to-morrow we realised, and it was something in the 
three of us (due, I mean, to the combination of our three 
personalities) that determined which particular to-morrow 
it was. The prisoner in space, his chains filed off, 
moves instinctively to the window of escape ; and they, 
prisoners in time, moved now similarly to a window — ■ 
of escape 

A flash of this escape from ordinary categories, of this 
" different " experience, had come to me as we left the 
railway carriage. It now grew brighter, more steady, more 
continuous. I seemed travelling in time, as one travels 
ordinarily in space. To the wingless creature crawling 
over fields the hedge behind it is past, the hedge beyond it 
future. It cannot conceive both hedges existing simul- 
taneously. Then some miracle gives it wings. Hanging 
in the air, it sees both past and future existing simul- 
taneously. Losing its wings once more, it crawls across the 
fields again. That air-experience now seems absurd, 
impossible, contradicting all established law. The same 
signpost points now as it always pointed — in one direction. 

This analogy, though imperfect, occurred to me, while 
we brought up, but not even breathlessly, half-way down 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 225 

the field as already mentioned, and all I have attempted to 
describe took place in that brief interval of running. 

Before entering that field with its rivers of gold, we had 
been leaning on a stile ; we were leaning on that stile still. 
Or, it may be put otherwise : we were leaning on that stile 
again. 

Similarly, the whole business of running, of passing the 
signs mentioned by the porter, the conversations, the 
emotions, everything in fact, were just about to happen all 
over again. More truly expressed, they were all happening 
still. Like Barton, in Malahide's previous phrase, it was all 
there. The hedge behind, the hedge in front, were both 
beneath us, existing simultaneously. ... At a particular 
spot in the hedge — a particular " to-morrow " — we 
paused .... 



VII 

... At my side, touching my shoulders, Malahide and 
Forden were quietly discussing the way to Barton-in-Fabis, 
and, as I listened, there came over me again that touch of 
nausea. For, while flatly contradicting one another, they 
were yet in complete agreement. 

It was at this instant the shock fell upon me with its 
glory and its terror. 

My companions stood back to back. I was a yard or so 
to one side. They both now turned suddenly— but how 
phrase the incredible thing ? — they both came at me, 
while at the same time they went away from me. A hand, 
endowed with consciousness, a hand being turned inside out 
like a glove, might feel what I felt. 

I saw their two faces. A little more, a little less, and 
there must have been a bristling horror in the experience. 

H* 



226 STRANGE STORIES 

As it was, I felt only that a sheet of wonder caught us up all 
three. The odour of burning that came with it did not 
terrify ; that drift of yellow smoke, now deepening, did not 
wound. I accepted, I understood, there was even some- 
thing in me had rejoiced. 

In the twinkling of an eye, both men were marvellously 
changed : they stood before me, splendid and divine. I 
was aware of the complete being in each, the full, whole 
Self, I mean, instead of the minute fraction I had known 
hitherto. All that lay in them, either of strength or 
weakness, was magnificently fused. . . . The word "glory" 
flashed, followed immediately by a better word, and one 
that Malahide had already used. Its inadequacy was 
painful. Its third meaning, however, in that instant blazed. 
" Angels " in spite of everything, remains. 

And I, too, moved — -moved with them both, but in a way, 
and in a direction, I had never known before. The glove, 
the hand, being turned inside out, is what my pen writes 
down, but accurate description is not possible. I moved, 
at any rate, on — on with my two companions towards 
Barton. 

" It's all one to me," I said, perfectly aware that I 
suddenly used the third meaning of the phrase, and that 
Malahide and Forden understood. 

" I've just said that myself," the latter mentioned — and 
this again was true. The smile, the happiness, on his face 
carried the very spirit of that radiant April morning, the 
essence of spring, with its birds, its flowers, its dew, its 
careless wisdom. 

" Such things," cried Malahide, " are painless after all. 
It comes on me like sleep upon a child. Ha, ha ! " he 
laughed, in his wild, vehement way. " It's all one to me 
now too. Escape, by God ! " 

The stab of fierce emotion his language caused me passed 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 227 

and vanished ; the afflicting memory of the burning odour 
was forgotten too. Everything, indeed, was one. Both 
men, I realised, gazed at me, smiling, wonderful, superb, 
and in their eyes a light, whose reflection apparently lay 
also in my own ; an immense and awful pity that our 
everyday, unhappy, partial selves should ever have dared 
to masquerade as though they were complete and real. . . . 

" God's pity," sang Malahide like a trumpet. " We 
shall have deserved it. . . . ! " 

" And the Devil's admiration," followed Forden's sweeter 
tones, as of a vox humana, both distant, yet like a lark 
against my ears. He was laughing with sheer music. 
" There was no terror. I knew it must be so. . . . Oh, 
the delicious liberty ... at last ! " 

Both uttered simultaneously. In the same breath, 
anguish and happiness working together, my own voice 
cried aloud : 

" We are, for once, whole-hearted ! " 



VIII 

At the moment of actual experience a new category 
would not seem foolish or impossible. These qualities 
would declare themselves only when it passed away. This 
was what happened — gradually — to me now, and, alas, to 
my companions too. A searing pain accompanied the 
transition, but no shock of violence. 

At the pinnacle there was a state of consciousness too 
strange, too " different," to be set down. The content of 
life, its liberty, its splendour, its characteristics of grandeur, 
even of divinity, were more than ordinary memory could 
retain. My own cry : " We are whole-hearted " must 
betray how pitiful description is. . . . Thus, the lovely 



228 STRANGE STORIES 

moment, for instance, when I first saw rivers of gold, kept 
repeating itself — because it gave me happiness, because it 
moved me. That field of golden buttercups was always — 
there. I lingered with it, came back to it, enjoyed it over 
and over again, yet with no sense of repetition. It was 
new and fresh each time. Now, Malahide and Forden, 
selecting other moments, chose these instead, and these, 
again, were moments easy to be remembered. Their finer 
instances baffle memory, although I knew and shared them 
at the time. Forden, for some peculiar choice to himself, 
was in the mountains which he loved ; his honeymoon 
presumably. Malahide, on the other hand, preferred his 
stars, though details of this have left me beyond recovery. 
. . . Yet, while we lingered, respectively, among rivers of 
gold and stars and snowy peaks, we were solidly side by 
side in the actual present, crossing the country fields 
towards Barton-in-Fabis on this April morning. 

The gradual passing of this state remains fairly clear 
in me. 

There came signs, I remember, of distress and effort in 
our relationships. This, at least, was the first touch of 
sorrow that I noticed. I was coming back to the surface, 
as it were. The change was more in myself than in the 
others. There was argument about footpath, signposts, 
and the way to Barton generally. 

" The fellow has planted his last post," I heard Malahide 
complaining. " Now he'll begin pulling them all up again. 
He both wants us to get to Barton, yet doesn't want it." 
He paused. His usual laugh did not follow. " You 
know," he went on, his whisper choking a little oddly in 
his throat, " he rather — puts the wind up me." A spasm 
ran over his big body. Then suddenly, he added, half to 
himself, with an effort painfully like a gasp, " I can't get 
my breath — quite. ' 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 229 

Forden spoke very quickly in his delicate way, resignation 
rather sweetly mingled in it : " Well, at any rate, we're 
all right so far, for I see the porter's farm and gate at last." 
He started and pointed. " Over there, you see." Only, 
instead of pointing across the fields, he— to my sharp dismay 
—looked and pointed straight into the sky above him. 

It was the fear in Malahide that chiefly afHicted me. 
And the pain of this, I remember, caused me to make an 
e g or t — which was an unwise thing to do. I drew attention 
to the ordinary things about us : 

" Look, there's a hill," I cried. 

" God ! " exclaimed Forden, with quiet admiration, 
" what amazing things you say ! " While Malahide began 
to sing again with happiness. 

His reaction to my sentence forced me to realise the 
increasing change in myself. As I uttered the words I 
knew their third meaning; in the plain sentences was 
something that equalled in value : " See ! the Heavens are 
open. There is God ! " My companions still heard this 
third meaning, for I saw the look of majesty in Malahide's 
great eyes, the love and beauty upon Forden's shining face. 
But, for myself, having spoken, there remained— suddenly 
— nothing more than a commonplace low hill upon the near 
horizon. The gate and farm I saw as well. A feeling of 
tears rose in me, for the straining effort for recovery was 
without result, anguished and bitter beyond words. 

I stole a glance at my companions. And that strange 
word Malahide had used came back to me, but with a deep, 
an awful sense of intolerable regret, as though its third 
meaning were gone beyond recall, and only two rather 
empty and foolish syllables remained. . . . 

It was passing, yes, for all three of us now ; the gates 
of ivory were closing ; there was confusion, and a rather 
crude foolishness. Oddly enough, it was Forden— seeing 



230 STRANGE STORIES 

that he was altogether a slighter fellow than Malahide — 
it was Forden who rose most slowly to the surface. Very 
gradually indeed he left the deeps we had all known 
together. To all that he now said and did Malahide 
responded with an aggravating giggle. He said such 
foolish things, confused, uncomfortable to listen to. His 
nerves showed signs of being frayed. He became a trifle 
sullen, a little frightened as well, and in his gait and gesture 
lay a disconcerting hurry and uncertainty, as though, 
hesitating to make a decision of some vital sort, he was 
flurried, almost in a frenzy sometimes, trying vainly to 
escape. This stupid confusion in him afflicted me, but the 
effort to escape seemed to paralyse something in my mind. 
It was petrifying. . . . And thus the sequence of what 
followed, proved extraordinarily difficult to remember 
afterwards. An atmosphere of sadness, of foreboding, of 
premonition came over me ; there was desolation in my 
heart ; there were stabs of horrible presentiment. All 
these, moreover, were ever vaguely related to one thing- — 
that inexplicable faint odour of burning. . . . 

What memory recalls can be told very briefly. It lies 
in my mind thus, condensed and swift : 

The storm was natural enough, but, here again, the 
smell of burning alarmed and wrung me. It was faint it 
was fugitive. Our mistake about the river had no im- 
portance, for the depression in the landscape might easily 
after all have held flowing water. The roofs, too, were 
not the roofs of Barton, but of a hamlet nestling among 
orchards, Clifden by name, and it was here, Forden informed 
us, he had first met his wife and had proposed to her ■ 
this also of no importance, except that he went on talking 
about it, and that it surprised him. He suddenly recog- 
nised the place, I mean. It increased his bewilderment 
and is mentioned for that reason. 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 231 

The storm, then, came abruptly. We had not seen it 
coming. Following a low line of hills, it overtook us from 
behind, bringing its own wind with it. The rustling of the 
leaves was the first thing I noticed. The trees about us 
began to shake and bend. The sparkling brilliance, I saw, 
had left the day ; the sun shone dully ; the fields were no 
longer radiant ; the flowers, too, were gone, for we were 
crossing a ploughed field at the moment. 

The discussion between us may be omitted ; its confusion 
is really beyond me to describe. The storm, however, is 
easily described, for everyone has seen that curious 
thickening of the air on a day in high summer, when the 
clouds are not really clouds, but come as a shapeless, murky 
gloom, threatening a portentous downpour, while yet no 
single raindrop falls. In childhood we called it " blight," 
believing it to be composed of myriads of tiny insects. 
Lurid effects of lighting accompanied it, trees and roofs, 
against its dark background, looking as if stage flares 
illumined them. The whole picture, indeed, was theatrical 
in the extreme, artificial almost ; but the aspect that I, 
personally, found so unwelcome, was that it laid over the 
sky an appearance of volumes of dense, heavy smoke. 
The idea of burning may, or may not, have been in my own 
mind only, for my companions made no comment on it. 
I cannot say. That it made my heart sink I remember 
clearly. 

It was a sham storm, it had no meaning, nothing hap- 
pened. Having accomplished its spectacular effect, it 
passed along the hills and dissipated, and the sun shone 
out with all its former brilliance. Yet, before it passed, 
certain things occurred ; they came and went, it seemed 
to me afterwards, with the simultaneity of dream happen- 
ings. For den, noticing the wall of gloom advancing, 
catching the noise of the trees as well, stopped dead in his 



232 STRANGE STORIES 

tracks, and stared. He sniffed the air, but made no com- 
ment. An expression of utter bewilderment draped bis 
face. He seemed once more bewitched. It was here the 
smell of burning came to me most strongly. 

" Look out ! " he cried, and started to run. He ran in 
front of us, we did not attempt to follow. But he ran in 
a circle, like a terrified animal. His figure went shifting 
quickly, silhouetted, like the trees and roofs, against the 
murky background of the low-hanging storm. A moment 
later he was beside us again, his face white, his eyes shining, 
his breath half-gone. 

" Come on, old Fordy," said Malahide affectionately, 
taking him by the arm. He, for some reason, was not 
affected. " It's not going to rain, you know, and anyhow 
there's no good running. Let's sit down and eat our 
lunch." And he led the way across a few furrows to the 
hedge. 

We ate our sandwiches and cake and apples. The sun 
shone hotly again. None of us smoked, I remember. For 
myself, the smell of burning had left something so miserable 
in me that I dared not smell even a lighted match. But no 
word was said by anybody in this, or in any other, sense. 
I kept my own counsel. . . . And it was while we lay 
resting idly, hardly speaking at all,- that a sound reached 
me from the other side of the hedge : a footstep in the 
flowered grass. My companions exchanged quick glances, 
I noticed, but I did not even turn my head. I did not 
dare. 

" He's putting it in," whispered Malahide, a touch of 
the old vehemence in his eyes. " The last one ! " Forden 
smiled, nodded his head, and was about to add some com- 
ment of his own, when the other interrupted brusquely : 

" Is that the way to Barton ? " he enquired suddenly in 
a louder voice, something challenging, almost truculent, 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 233 

in the tone. He jerked his head towards the gate we had 
recently come through. " Through that gate and past 
that farm, I mean ? " 

The answering voice startled me. It was the owner of 
the footsteps, of course, behind the hedge. 

" No. That's a dead end," came in gruff but not 
unpleasant country tones. 

There was no more than that. It was all natural enough. 
Yet a lump came up in my throat as I heard. I still dared 
not look round over my shoulder. I looked instead into 
Forden's face, so close beside me. " We're all right," he 
was saying, as he glanced up a little. " Don't struggle so. 
It's the way we've got to go . . ." and was about to say 
more, when a fit of coughing caught him, as though for a 
moment he were about to suffocate. I hid my eyes quickly ; 
a feeling of horror and despair swept through me ; for 
there was terror in the sound he made ; but the next 
second, when I looked again, the coughing had passed, and 
I saw in his face an expression of radiant happiness ; the 
eyes shone wonderfully, there was a delicate, almost 
unearthly, beauty on his features. I found myself 
trembling, utterly unnerved. 

" We'd better be getting on," mentioned Malahide, in 
his abrupt, inconsequent fashion. " We mustn't miss that 
train back." And it was this unexpected change of key 
that enabled me at last to turn my head. I looked hurriedly 
behind the hedge. I was just in time to see a man, a farmer 
apparently, in the act of planting a post into the ground. 
He was pressing it down, at any rate, and much in the 
fashion of Malahide's former play about a " fellow who 
planted signposts." But he was planting — two. Side by 
side they already stood in the earth. One arm pointed 
right, the other left. They formed, thus, a cross. 

The very same second, with a quiver in the air, as when 



234 STRANGE STORIES 

two cinema pictures flash on each other's heels with extreme 
rapidity, I experienced an optical delusion. I must call 
it such, at any rate. The focus of my sight changed 
instantaneously. The man was already in the distance, 
diminished in outline, moving away across the bright fields 
of golden buttercups. I saw him as I had seen him once 
or twice before, earlier in the day, a moving figure in the 
grass ; and when my eyes shifted back to examine the 
posts, there was but a single post — a signpost whose one 
arm bore in faded lettering the words : " From Barton." 
It pointed in the direction whence we had come. . . . 

I followed my companions in a dream that is better left 
untouched by words. Led by Malahide, we passed through 
Clifden ; we came to the Trent and were ferried across ; 
and a little later we reached, as the porter had described, 
a Midland station called Attenborough. A train soon took 
us back to the town where we were playing. Malahide, 
without a word, vanished from our side the moment we left 
the carriage. I did not see him again until, dressed in his 
lordly costume, he stood in the wings that night, waiting 
impatiently for his entrance. I had walked home with 
Forden, flung myself on the bed, and dropped off into a 
deep two-hours' sleep. 



IX 

A performance behind the scenes that night was more 
dramatic — to me, at least — than anything the enthusiastic 
audience witnessed from the front. The three of us met 
in the wings for the first time since Malahide had given us 
the slip at the station. High tea at six I had alone, Forden 
for some reason going to a shop for his meal. Malahide, 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 235 

for another reason, ate nothing. We met, anyhow, at our 
respective posts in the wings. Neither Forden nor I were 
on till late in the second act, and as we came down the 
rickety stairs from separate dressing-rooms, at the same 
moment it so chanced, I realised at once that he was as 
little inclined to talk as I was. My own mind was still 
too packed with the whirling wonder of the whole affair 
for utterance. We nodded, then dropped back towards 
the door through which he would presently make his 
entrance. 

It was just then, while someone was whispering " He's 
giving a marvellous performance to-night," that Malahide 
swept by me from his exit and ran to his dressing-room 
for a hurried change. 

" Hullo, Hubert ! " he cried in his tempestuous way. 
" I say . . ." as though it surprised him to see me there. 
" By the by," he rattled on, stopping dead for a breathless 
second in the rush to his room, " there's a place called 
Barton I want to see — Barton-in-Fabis. Let's go to- 
morrow. There's a train at 10.15. Forden can come 
too ! " And he was gone. Gone too, I realised with a 
dreadful sinking of the heart, a trembling of the nerves as 
well — utterly gone as though it had never happened, was 
all memory of the day's adventure. The mind in Malahide 
was blank as a clean-washed slate. 

And Forden — standing close behind him within easy 
earshot — my eye fell upon Forden, who had heard every 
single word. I saw him stare and bite his lips. He passed 
a hand aimlessly across his forehead. His eyelids flickered. 
There was a quiver of the lips. In his old man's wig and 
make-up, he looked neither himself nor the part he was 
just about to play. Waiting there for his cue, now immi- 
nent, he stared fixedly at Malahide's vanishing figure, then 
at me, then blankly into space. He was like a man about 



236 STRANGE STORIES 

to fall. He looked bewitched again. A moment's intense 
strain shot across the delicate features. He made in that 
instant, I am convinced, a tremendous, a violent, effort to 
recapture something that evaded him, an effort that failed 
completely. The next second, too swift to be measurable, 
that amazing expression, the angel's, shone out amazingly. 
It flashed and vanished. . . . His cue sounded. He, too, 
was gone. 

How I made my own entrance, I hardly know. Five 
minutes later we met on the stage. He was normal. He 
was acting beautifully. His mind, like Malahide's, was a 
clean-washed slate. 



X 

My one object was to avoid speech with either Malahide 
or Forden. The former was on the stage until the end of 
the play, but the latter made no appearance in the last act. 
I slipped out the moment I was free to go. Malahide's door 
was ajar, but he did not see me. Foregoing supper, I was 
safely in bed when I heard Forden come upstairs soon after 
midnight. I fell into an uneasy sleep that must have been 
deeper, however, than it seemed, for I did not hear Malahide 
come in, but I was wide awake on the instant, dread 
clutching me with gripping force, when I heard Forden's 
voice outside my door. 

" It's half-past nine ! " he warned me. " We mustn't 
miss the train, remember ! " 

After gulping down some coffee, I went with him to the 
station, and he was normal and collected as you please. 
We chatted in our usual fashion. Clearly, his mind held 
no new, strange thing of any sort. Malahide was there 
before us. . . . 



MALAHIDE AND FORDEN 237 

The day, for me, was a nightmare of appalling order. A 
kind of mystical horror held me in a vice. Half -memories 
of bewildering and incredible things haunted me. The 
odour of burning, faint but unmistakable, was never 
absent. . . . 

We took single tickets to Stanton, Malahide reading a 
pile of papers and commenting volubly on the criticisms 
of the play. A porter at the station gave us confused 
directions. We followed faulty signposts, ancient and 
illegible, losing ourselves rather stupidly . . . and I 
noticed a man— a farmer with a spud — wandering about 
the fields and making thrusts from time to time at thistles. 
A sham storm followed a low line of hills, but no rain fell, 
and the brilliance of the April day was otherwise unspoilt. 
Barton itself we never reached, but we crossed the Trent 
on our way to a station called Attenborough, first passing 
a hamlet, Clifden, where, Forden informed us, he had met 
the girl he later made his wife. 

It was a dull and uninspired expedition, Malahide voluble 
without being articulate, Forden rather silent on the whole 
. . . and at the home station Malahide gave us the slip 
without a word . . . but during the entire outing neither 
one nor other betrayed the slightest hint of familiarity with 
anything they had known before. In myself the memory 
lay mercilessly sharp and clear. I noted each startling 
contrast between the one and other. At the end I was 
worn out, bone-tired, every nerve seemed naked . . . and, 
again, I left the theatre alone, ran home, and went supper- 
less to bed. 

My determination was to keep awake at all costs, but 
sleep caught me too easily, as I believed it was meant to 
catch me. No such little thing as a warning was allowed 
to override what had to be, what had already been. . . . 
In the early hours of the morning, about two o'clock, to 



238 STRANGE STORIES 

be exact, I woke from a nightmare of overwhelming vivid- 
ness. Wide awake I was, the instant I opened my eyes. 
The nightmare was one of suffocation. I was being 
suffocated, and I carried over into waking consciousness 
the smell of burning and the atmosphere of smoke. The 
room, I saw at once, was full of smoke, the burning was 
not a dream. I was being suffocated. But in my case 
the suffocation was not complete, whereas Malahide and 
Forden died, according to the doctors, in their sleep. They 
did not even wake. They knew no pain. . . 



ALEXANDER ALEXANDER 

HIS Christian name and surname were the same, and 
the fact that he insisted upon their proper use, 
respectively, made things often most unpleasant. His 
sombre dignity forbade familiarity. If, greatly daring, I 
said " Hullo, Alexander ! " using his Christian name, he 
would assume a stern and frightening air : 

" Alexander ! if you please," he would say icily. " Use 
my right name." 

Herein lay, perhaps, the heart of that dark secret which 
deceived mean for so my years, as also the essence of that 
horror his double masquerade concealed : Whereas, between 
Alexander and Alexander none knew which was which, 
he — alone of all the world — he knew ! 

To me, as a little girl, there was something portentous 
about him always. More than a common man, he was a 
Personage, a Figure. With the passage of the years my 
conception of him grew, for his bulk and stature grew at 
the same time, until, more than man, or personage, or 
figure, he became almost that emanation of legendary life — 
a Being. Although the original sharp outline remained, 
he spread himself out somehow over an immense, dim 
background, against which that first outline yet held itself 
fixed in vivid silhouette. I conceive him as both remote 
and very close, as shadow and substance, an unreality yet 
dreadfully composed of solid flesh and blood. 

This confusion in my own mind added enormously to 
the mystery of his strange existence ; but it was the mistake 
in the use of his name that remained chiefly serious, a crime 
of untold import, since it was I myself who first — christened 

239 



240 STRANGE STORIES 

him. To call him by a wrong name, therefore, was an 
insult to his actuality, a careless and unpardonable sacrilege 
that trifled with the essential nature of his personality. 

I lived with an uncle, who was also my guardian, and 
this mystifying double role contributed, no doubt, an 
element to the birth of Alexander Alexander. Some child- 
hood's divination dramatised itself perhaps. If so, this 
earliest creative drama had a prophetic, even a clairvoyant, 
quality that enabled him to endure until he had fully 
justified his dark existence. Both Alexander and Alexander 
persisted through my girlhood. Only at the threshold of 
womanhood, when I came of age at twenty-one, did the 
dreadful pair pass hand in hand to their final distressing 
dissolution. 

He — Alexander — often came to see my uncle, who, I 
divined, was a good deal afraid of him — a fact that im- 
pressed me painfully. He was tall, dark, angular, and so 
thin that he always looked cold, even in the sunshine ; as 
though, having left off his flesh, as others leave off their 
thick underwear, he was for ever shivering in his bones. 
Of those mummied Pharaohs he reminded me. He had the 
great square jaw, deep eyes, heavy cheek-bones, and 
copious hair those gloomy figures of prodigious personality 
bear tirelessly with them down the ages. He walked on 
his toes a little, adding thus to the appearance of his height. 
He took, too, an immense and swinging stride, with an easy 
gliding motion that seemed to flow. His extraordinary 
swiftness of movement made me think of running water. 

Oh, Alexander — or do I mean Alexander? — how you 
impressed me when I was about six years old ! Which 
" Alexander " ? I don't quite know, to tell the truth. 
Years passed before I got even an inkling. 

The names still flow, like parallel rivers, down and 
through my consciousness, to lose themselves in the depths 



ALEXANDER ALEXANDER 241 

of some mysterious dream-ocean where, at length and at 
last, they become merged, I believe, in one. There were 
certainly two of them — once. There was Alexander, and 
there was Alexander. I can swear to it. 

It was his — Alexander's copious hair that impressed me 
vividly at the age of six. It was smoothed down with 
shiny grease whose faint, but not unpleasant, aroma came 
into a room before its wearer, and hung about in the air 
long after he had left. Hair, perfume, grease, all fascinated 
me. 

"That's pomade," explained my nurse, answering a 
question and using a strange new word. Then, fearful 
of some wrong use I might make of the information, she 
added : " and no business of yours, remember, either." 
The queer word seized me ; it remained hanging about my 
mind . . . pomade, pomade. How vividly, with what 
lasting depth and sharpness these early impressions score 
the mind of a child, so tenderly receptive. No wonder the 
psychologists dive after them to explain the irregularities 
of nerve and memory that emerge in later life. The name 
Alexander, to begin with, carried me away. It bore me 
along with it. There was movement in it. Jones, Green, 
Brown, one syllable names, are stationary and fixed ; but 
" Alexander " had a glide. It was a watery movement ; 
I always connected it with water. It flowed round and 
through and under me. It bore me easily away with it. 
I saw a rapid stream, whose undulating surface had no 
actual waves, owing to its speed, but swept along in 
rhythmic rise and fall, like a brimmed rivulet across a 
sloping meadow. My feet gave under me, and I was off. 
" Alexander, Alexander, oh, why cannot you meander F " 
I used to murmur to myself, using auother strange new 
word I had discovered, a suitable word since it was the 
name of a river that also flowed. I saw copious hair, 



242 STRANGE STORIES 

pomade, a lean, dark, careering figure on its toes, swinging 
rapidly down my mind with, a pulse of hurrying water. 

He was a solicitor, I imagined, and the name only half 
understood, somehow to me suggested prison ; and my uncle, 
who was also my legal guardian, I fancied had done some- 
thing wrong. It was rather confusing having an uncle 
who was guardian too. It puzzled me. My uncle was 
reserved, secretive — that is, as "guardian," he was 
reserved, secretive ; for as " uncle " he was affectionate, 
playful, kind, and very dear to me. I had this mingled 
fear and love. 

The name had a strange power. I was, perhaps, nine 
years old when the goose frightened me in the yard behind 
the stables, and some undigested fairy-tale made me think 
its clacking beak was going to bite me into pieces. Pulling 
down my little skirts frantically to protect my bare legs, 
I found the bad rhyme instantly, though I may have shaped 
it actually a little later : 

Alexander, Alexander, 
Oh, come down into the yard ! 
For I'm frightened at the gander — 
Oh, come quick with your pomade ! 

And he came. That was what lived with me for years, 
increasing enormously his influence. He came at once. 
The glass door of the conservatory opened, and out he 
poured with amazing swiftness, on his toes, turning his 
thin, dark face and head towards me. His great stride 
brought him up to me in a moment. He was, I believe, 
really looking for my uncle, who was in the stables just 
then, examining the horses. But it was in answer to my 
cry that he was beside me in a second. I caught the whiff 
of the pomade. 



ALEXANDER ALEXANDER 243 

" Oh, Alexander ! " I cried, relieved, but also 

alarmed. 

" Alexander" he corrected me sternly, his deep eyes 
staring, while the gander retreated and left me safe at once. 
Yet, when I turned round again from watching the retreating 
bird, he — Alexander — had disappeared, and my uncle — or 
was it my guardian ? — was coming towards me from the 
stables with a smile. The incident, at any rate, left a deep 
impression on me. The use — the correct use — of the great 
name evidently carried away with its own movement. 

I saw him only occasionally as I grew older ; during 
holidays, when home from school, and later, from a year 
in Paris to improve my French and acquire manners and 
deportment. He was aged in the eyes, and skin, and gait. 
The stream of his name no longer brimmed its banks as 
formerly. But the spell remained. And the pomaded hair 
kept young as ever. My uncle, I now realised somehow, 
welcomed his visits, yet while dreading them. I thought 
of the two at the time, I remember, as driver and driven 
in some mysterious enterprise of financial kind. They 
were. But Alexander was the driven, and Alexander held 
the whip. And onct, lying half asleep in bed, a horrible 
suspicion came to me that my uncle — or was it my guardian ? 
— knew. Knew what ? Why " horrible " ? I could not 
say, I felt it, that's all. 

A week after my return from Paris — I was to be of age 
next day — I was standing in the passage when he called. 
Thomas was leading the way. It was just outside the 
study door. 

" Mr. Alexander to see you, sir," I heard him announced. 

The visitor glowered with vexation. " Mr. Alexander" 
he rebuked the servant in a low tone, as he swung through 
the door on his toes into the study, where my uncle, or 
my guardian evidently awaited him. And as I heard the 



244 STRANGE STORIES 

name, in the way he uttered it, a sudden wave of cold 
anxiety, more of acute distress, broke over me. As that 
lean, dark, pomaded head flowed round the open door 
with its extraordinary swiftness, and vanished, I felt afraid. 
The footman went past me with an expressionless face, 
but it seemed to me that his face was ghastly white. He 
disappeared in the empty hall beyond ; I heard the green 
baize door into the nether regions swing to behind him 
with its customary gulp. But the draught of its closing 
came to me across all that distance ; so that I felt it on 
my cheeks. And its touch was icy. I stood there shivering, 
unable at first to move or think. A vague dread and 
wonder held me. What were Alexander and Alexander 
saying to my uncle and my guardian ? 

What steps to take I knew not. For I was aware that 
I ought to take steps at once. My hesitation was caused 
by an inexplicable fear. It was the fear of my guardian, 
but for my uncle. Is that clear ? While dreading my 
guardian, I felt, I knew, that I must help my uncle. . Two 
courses seemed open to me : to enter the room, or to follow 
the footman and ask him an awful question. 

I chose the latter. In a moment I was through the green 
baize door that led into the servants' quarters ; but, as 
I ran, a new suspicion fastened on me. It fastened on my 
spine where the shivering was. I was amazed and horror- 
stricken. For the suspicion was so complete that it must 
actually have lain in me a long, long time already. 

" Thomas," I said, breathlessly ; " the gentleman you 
' showed in just now — who was it ? " 

" I beg pardon, Miss," he said, staring blankly. I asked 
the question a second time. " Showed in, Miss," he 
repeated stupidly. 

" The tall, dark gentleman," I insisted, in a failing voice, 
" you just showed in to " (I could not, for the life of 



ALEXANDER ALEXANDER 245 

me, say " my uncle's ")— " into Mr. Burton's study. Mr. 

— Mr. ? " I stammered and stuck fast. 

The man paused a moment, with a puzzled air. He 
stared at me. " I showed no gentleman in, Miss," he said, 
a trifle offended, his voice firm and decided. " Mr. Burton 

rang for " (it was his turn to hesitate) — " for something 

to drink, Miss. And I just took it in to him." 

I knew then. I knew it all at once, complete. I tore 
back. But my thought raced faster than my legs. An 
elaborate fabric built most carefully, and standing firm 
for years, collapsed into ghastly ruins. The footman's 
face, I remembered, was always white. My nurse, now 
dead, had always fallen in with my fancies. My uncle 
was tall and thin and dark, and had always worn pomaded 
hair. But it was only when I reached the study door that 
the final film cleared off, letting in the appalling light. 
For I suddenly remembered another thing as well ; he 
acknowledged to a buried name. Hidden away among 
several others, he owned a name he never used. His full 
name, of course, was Frank Henry Alexander Burton. 

I stood transfixed outside the door. 

But precious minutes were passing. " Oh, Alexander, 
Alexander," rushed down my mind. The childhood's 
rhyme was about to follow, yard, gander, pomade and all, 
when a sound inside the room sent the ice again down my 
spine. It made my will tighten at the same time. I might 
be too late even now. Without knocking, I rushed into 
the room. The desk was strewn with documents and 
papers. A decanter of spirits stood beside them, with a 
half-emptied glass. The French windows were open on 
the lawn. The summer air came in. There was a faint 
aroma of pomade. But I was too late. The room was 
empty. " Oh, Alexander ! " I gasped, petrified by the 
emptiness, and was about to add " Alexander " when a 



246 STRANGE STORIES 

horrid weakness came over me and a blackness rose before 
my face. My legs collapsed. I fell into a dead faint on 
the floor. . . . 

It was " by water " of course, and the verdict was death 
by drowning while of unsound mind. I saw the body next 
day. It was my uncle's, not my guardian's body. The 
hair, for the first time, I saw tangled. 

Oh, Alexander, Alexander ! Merged at last in one ! 
You, Alexander, left me a pauper. But for you, Alexander, 
I have still kind memories of a weak, affectionate, and 
sorely tempted uncle. . . . 



THE MAN WHO WAS MILLIGAN 

MILLIGAN looked round the dingy rooms with an 
appraising air, while the landlady stood behind him, 
wondering whether he would decide to take them. She 
stood with her arms crossed ; her eye was observant. She, 
in her turn, was appraising Milligan, of course. He was 
a clerk in a tourist agency, and in his spare time he wrote 
stories for the cinema. What attracted him just now 
in the very ordinary lodgings was the big folding-doors. 
All he really needed was a bed-sitting-room, with breakfast, 
but he suddenly saw himself sitting in that front room 
writing his scenarios — successfully at last. It was rather 
tempting. He would be a literary man — with a study ! 

" Your price seems a trifle high, Mrs. — er r " he 

opened the bargain. 

" Bostock, sir, Mrs. Bostock," she informed him, then 
recited her tale of woe about the high cost of living. It 
was unnecessary recitation, for Milligan was not listening, 
having already decided in his mind to take the rooms. 

While Mrs. Bostock droned monotonously on, his eye 
fell casually upon a picture that hung above the plush 
mantelpiece — a Chinese scene showing a man in a boat 
upon a little lake. He glanced at it, no more than that. 
It was better than glancing at Mrs . Bostock. The landlady, 
however, instantly caught that glance and noticed its 
direction. 

" Me 'usband " — she switched off her main theme — 
" brought it 'ome from China. From Hong-Kong, I should 
say." And the way she aspirated the " H " in Hong made 

247 



248 STRANGE STORIES 

Milligan smile. He perceived that she was proud of the 
picture evidently. 

" It's wonderful," he said. " Probably it's worth some- 
thing, too. These Chinese drawings — some of 'em — are 
very rare, I believe." 

The little picture was worth perhaps two shillings, and 
he knew it ; but he had found his way to Mrs. Bostock's 
heart, and, incidentally, had persuaded her to take a 
shilling off the rent. The picture, he felt sure, had been 
stolen by her late husband, a sea captain. To her it was 
a kind of nest-egg. If she ever found herself in difficulties, 
it would fetch money. Milligan, by chance, had stumbled 
upon what he called a " good line." 

Being an honest creature, he had no wish to use his 
knowledge, but every week thereafter, almost every day, 
indeed, some remark concerning the Chinese drawing passed 
between them : with the natural result that, while it bored 
him a good deal, he cultivated the theme, and in so doing 
gazed much and often at the Chinaman. That Celestial, 
sitting in the boat with his back to the room, rowing, rowing 
eternally across the placid lake without advancing, he came 
to know in every detail. 

Every time Mrs. Bostock chatted with him, his eye 
wandered from her grimy visage to the drawing. He used 
it to end the chat with. 

" I like your picture so much," he observed. " It's nice 
to live with." He put it straight, he flicked dust from the 
frame with his handkerchief. " It's so much better than 

these modern things. It's worth a bit — I dare say " 

It chanced, at the time, that Lafcadio Hearn, the writer 
about Japan, was in his mind. He had once arranged a 
successful trip to Japan for a client of his firm, and the 
client had made him a present of one of Hearn's strange 
and wonderful books. It was hardly in the fine of 



THE MAN WHO WAS MILLIGAN 249 

Milligan's reading, for it had no " film value," and he had 
sold the book — a collection of Chinese stories — to a second- 
hand bookseller for a shilling. But he had glanced at it 
first, and a story in it had remained sharply in his mind : 
a story about a picture of a man in a boat. An observer, 
watching the picture, had seen the man move. The man 
actually began to row. Finally, the man rowed right out 
of the picture and into the place — a temple — where the 
observer stood. 

Milligan thought it foolish, yet his memory retained the 
details vividly. They stuck in his head. The graphic 
description was realistic. Milligan caught himself thinking 
of it every time he met a Chinaman in the street, every 
time he sold a ticket to China or Japan. It rose, it flitted 
by, it vanished. The memory persisted. And the moment 
his eye first saw Mrs. Bostock's treasure over the plush 
mantelpiece, this vivid memory of Hearn's story had again 
risen, flitted by, and vanished. It betrayed its vitality, at 
any rate. Wonderful chap, that Hearn, thought Milligan. 

All this was natural enough, without mystery, without 
a hint of anything queer or out of the ordinary. What was 
a little queer — it struck Milligan so, at any rate — was an 
idea that began to grow in him from the very first week of 
his tenancy. 

" That might be the very drawing the fellow wrote 
about," occurred to him one night as he laboured at a 
lurid scenario which was to make his fortune. " Not 
impossible at all. It's an old picture probably. Exactly 
what Hearn described, too. I wonder ! Why not ? " 

Why not, indeed ? A fellow — especially a literary fellow 
— -should use his imagination. Milligan used his. Some- 
times he used it in prolonged labour till the early hours. 
The gas-light flickered across his pages, across that lake 
in China, across the boat, across the back and arms and 

I 



25° STRANGE STORIES 

pigtail of that diminutive Chink who rowed eternally over 
a placid Chinese lake without advancing an inch. The 
scenario of the moment brought in China, aptly enough. 
A glance at the picture, he found, was not unhelpful in 
the way of stimulating a nagging imagination. 

Milligan glanced often. The gas-light was always 
flickering. Shadows were for ever shifting to and fro 
across Mrs. Bostock's worthless nest-egg. It was easy to 
imagine that the boat, the water, even the figure moved. 
Those dancing shadows ! How they played about the 
arms, the back, the outline of the boat, the oars ! 

And when it was two in the morning, and the London 
streets lay hushed, and a great stillness blanketed the whole 
city, Milligan felt even a little thrilled. It was, he thought, 
" imaginative," to catch these slight, elusive movements 
in the drawing. He imagined the fellow rowing about, 
changing his position, landing. It helped his own mood, 
his incidents, his atmosphere. He had read Thomas 
Burke, of course. His scenarios always referred to 
Chinamen as " Chinks." 

" That Chink's alive ! " he whispered to himself. " By 
Jove ! He moves in the picture. His place changes. It's 

an inspiration. I must use it somehow ! " And 

imagination, eerily stimulated in the deep silence of the 
sleeping city, was at work again. 

This was the beginning of the strange adventure which 
befell the literary Milligan, whose imagination worked in 
the stillness of the small hours, but whose scenarios were 
never used. 

" For why write scenarios," he said to me, " when you 
can Jive them ? " 

In Peking, ten or twelve years later, he said this to me, 
and I am probably the only person to whom this scenario 
he " lived " was ever confided. 



THE MAN WHO WAS MILLIGAN 251 

In Peking his name was not Milligan at all. He was not 
working in a tourist agency. He was a rich man, aged 
thirty-eight, a " figure " in the English community there, 
a man of influence and position. But all that does not 
matter. What matters is the story of how he came to be 
in China at all — and this he does not know. He does not 
know how he came to be in China at all. There is no 
recollection of the journey even. Nor can he state precisely 
how he began the speculations and enterprises that made 
him prosperous, beyond that he suddenly found himself 
concerned in big, fortunate undertakings in the Chinese 
city. 

There is this deep gap in the years. 

" Loss of memory, I suppose they call it," he mentioned, 
after our chance acquaintanceship had grown into a friend- 
ship that gave me his confidence. What he could tell he 
told me frankly and without reserve, glad to talk of it, 
I think, to someone who did not mock, and making no 
condition of secrecy, moreover. 

There was some link, apparently, between myself and 
the man who had been Milligan. Chance, that some call 
destiny, revealed it. And, as I listened to his amazing 
tale, I swore that on my return to London I would visit 
Mrs. Bostock and buy the picture. I wanted that Chinese 
drawing badly. I wanted to examine it myself. Her 
nest-egg at last should be worth something, as Milligan, 
ten years before, had told her. 

What happened was, apparently, as follows : Milligan, 
first of all, discovered in himself, somewhat suddenly it 
seemed, a new interest in China and things Chinese. If 
the birth of this interest was abrupt, its growth was 
extremely rapid. China fairly leapt at him. He read 
books, talked with travellers, studied the map, the history, 
the civilisation of Chnia. The psychology of the Celestial 



252 STRANGE STORIES 

race absorbed him. The subject obsessed him. He longed 
to go to China. It became a yearning that left him no 
peace day or night. In practical terms of time, money and 
opportunity, the journey was, of course, impossible. He 
lived on in London, but actually he lived already in China, 
for where a man's thought is there shall his consciousness 
be also. 

All this I could readily understand, for others, similarly, 
have felt the call and spell of countries like Egypt, Africa, 
the desert. There was nothing incomprehensible nor 
peculiar in the fascination China exercised upon the imagina- 
tive Milligan. It was his business, moreover, to sell 
exciting tickets to travellers, and China happened to have 
fired his particular temperament. Natural enough ! 

Natural enough, too, that, through this, the picture in 
his lodgings should have acquired more meaning for him, 
and that he should have studied it more closely and more 
frequently. It was the only Chinese object he had within 
constant reach, and he told me at wearisome length how 
he knew every tiniest detail of the drawing, and how it 
became for him a kind of symbol, almost a kind of sacred 
symbol, upon which he focussed his intense desires — 
frustrated desires. Wearisome, yes, until he reached a 
point in his story that suddenly galvanised my interest, 
so that I began to listen with uncommon, if a rather creepy, 
curiosity. 

The picture, he informed me, altered. There was move- 
ment among its details that he already knew by heart. 

" Movement ! " he half-whispered to me, his eyes shining, 
a faint shudder running through his big body. 

The sincerity of deep conviction with which he described 
what happened left a lasting impression on my mind. 
His words, his manner, conveyed the truth of a genuine 
experience. Hitherto only the back of the Chink's head 



THE MAN WHO WAS MILLIGAN 253 

had been visible. Then, one night, Milligan saw his profile. 
The face was turned. It now looked a little over the 
shoulder, and towards the room. 

From this moment, though he never detected actual 
movement when it occurred, the alteration in the drawing 
was marked and rapid. The face retained its new position ; 
the angle of the profile did not widen, but the position of 
oars and boat, the attitude of arms and back, their size 
as well, these now changed from day to day. 

There was a dreadful rapidity about these changes. The 
figure of the Chink grew bigger ; the boat grew bigger too. 
They were coming nearer. " I had the awful conviction," 
whispered the man who had been Milligan, " that they were 
coming — to fetch me. I used to get all of a sweat each 
time I saw the size and nearness grow. It was appalling, 
but also it was delightful somehow " 

I permitted myself a question : " Did your landlady 
notice it too ? " I enquired, concealing my scepticism. 

" Mrs. Bostock was ill in bed the whole time. She never 
came into the room once." 

" The servant ? " I persisted. " Or any of your 
friends ? " 

He hesitated. "The girl who did the room," he said 
honestly, " observed nothing. She gave notice suddenly 
without a reason. So did the next girl. I never asked 
them anything. As for my friends " — he smiled faintly — 
" I was too scared — to bring them in." 

" You were afraid they might not see what you saw ? " 

He shrugged his shoulders. " It scared me," he repeated, 
looking past me towards the shuttered windows of his 
study where we sat. 

The account he gave of it all made my flesh creep even 
in that bright Peking sunshine. He certainly described 
what he saw, or believed he saw, as, day after day, night 



254 STRANGE STORIES 

after night, that Chink rowed his boat slowly, slowly, surely, 
surely, very gradually, but with remorseless purpose, nearer, 
nearer — and nearer. The lodger watched. He also waited. 

" The man," he whispered, " was rowing into the room. 
It was his purpose to row into the room. He was coming 
to fetch me." And he mopped his forehead at the thought 
of what had happened ten years ago. 

Suddenly he leant forward. 

" In the end," his thin voice rattled almost against my 
face, " he — did fetch me. I'm in that picture with him 
now. I'm not in China, as you think I am. This " — he 
tapped his chest, the chest of a successful business man — 
" is not me. I'm not Milligan. Milligan is in that picture 
with the Chink. He's in that boat. Sitting beside that 
Chink. Motionless. Being stared at by a succession of 
lodgers. Sitting in that stiff little boat. Very tiny. Not 
dead, but captive. Sitting without breath. Without 
feeling. Painted, yet alive. Caught on the surface of 
that placid Chinese lake until time or death dissolve the 
drawing " 

I thought he was going to faint, but, oddly enough, I 
did not think him merely mad. His mood, his crawling 
horror, his intense sincerity took me bodily into his own 
deep nightmare. He recovered quickly. He was a man 
who had himself always well in hand. • He told me the end 
at once. 

He had been to a dance and he came home tired, sober, 
having well enjoyed himself, it seems, about four in the 
morning. The time was early spring, and dawn was just 
giving faint signs of breaking, but the hall and passage of 
the house were still dark. 

He entered his room and lit the gas, going at once to the 
mirror to have a look at himself. This was the first thing 
he did, he assured me, and in the mirror he saw, behind 



THE MAN WHO WAS MILLIGAN 255 

himself, the boat and the Chinaman, both of them— 
gigantic. 

Gigantic was the word he used, though he used it, of 
course, relatively. The Chianman was standing in the 
room. He was in the lake in front of the plush mantelpiece. 
The wall was gone — there was a sort of hazy space. Close 
at the Chinaman's heels lay the boat, both oars resting 
sideways on the water, their heads still in the rowlocks. 
Water was up to his feet, to Milligan's feet, for he not only 
felt his shoes soaked through, but he also heard the lapping 
sound of diminutive wavelets on the " shore." 

He gave a great sigh. No cry, either of terror or surprise, 
he said, escaped him. His only sound was this great sigh — 
of acceptance, of resignation, of a mind benumbed and yet 
secretly delighted. The big Chink beckoned, smiled, nodded 
his yellow face, retreating very slowly as he did so. And 
Milligan obeyed. He followed. He stepped into the boat. 
The Chink took up the oars, and rowed him slowly, very 
slowly, across the placid lake, into the picture and out of 
his familiar, known surroundings, rowed him slowly, very 
slowly, into the land of his heart's deep desire. 



All the way home to England in the steamer this strangest 
of strange narratives haunted me. I still saw the man 
who was Milligan sitting in the study of his big, expensive 
house as he told it to me. His shrewd business brain had 
built that house ; the fortune he had made provided the 
good lunch and cigars we had enjoyed together. From the 
moment of entering the boat his memory had remained a 
blank. Continuity of personality though still, it seemed to 
me, rather uncertain somewhere, had revived only when he 
was already a rich man who had spent years in China. 
This big gap in the years remains. 



256 STRANGE STORIES 

In my mind lay every detail of the story ; in my pocket- 
book lay the address of Mrs. Bostock's rooms. I prayed 
heaven she might still be living, even if aged and crumpled 
by ten more English winters. 

I had arranged to cable " Milligan " at once ; we had 
selected the very words I was to use : " Two figures in 
boat," or " One figure in boat." He asked for the message 
in these words. Fortune favoured me ; I found the 
rooms ; Mrs. Bostock was alive ; the rooms were un- 
occupied ; I looked over them ; I saw — the picture. 

Before visiting Mrs. Bostock, however, I had visited the 
newspaper files in the British Museum, and the " Dis- 
appearance of James Milligan " was there for all to read. 
Millions had evidently read it. It had been the news of the 
day. Columns of space were devoted to it ; dozens of 
false clues were started ; crime was suggested, of course. 
His disappearance was complete. Milligan was a case of 
" sunk without trace," with a vengeance. 

It was in the dingy front room that I experienced what 
was perhaps the most vivid thrill of wonder life has ever 
given me. I stood, appraising the room as a would-be 
lodger. Behind me, her arms crossed, appraising me in 
turn just as she had appraised her former lodger of ten 
years ago, stood Mrs. Bostock. Probably I looked more 
prosperous than he had looked ; her attitude, at any rate, 
was attentive to a fault. Why I should have trembled a 
little is hard to say, but self-control was certainly not as 
full as it might have been, for my voice shook a trifle as, at 
length, I drew her attention with calculated purpose to the 
picture above the plush mantelpiece. I praised it. 

" Me 'usband brought it back from Hong-Kong," I 
heard her say. 

My breath caught a little, so that there was a slight pause 
before I said the next thing. My voice went slightly husky. 



THE MAN WHO WAS MILLIGAN 257 

" I have a collection of Chinese drawings," I mentioned. 
" If you cared to sell, perhaps " 

" Oh, many 'as wanted to buy it," she lied easily, hoping 
to increase its value. 

I mentioned five pounds. I mentioned another figure 
too — the figure in the boat. 

" That single figure," I explained in as calm a tone as I 
could muster, " is so good, you see. The Chinese artists 
never overcrowded their paintings. Now, if— instead of 
that single figure — there were two " — I moved closer to the 
picture, hoping she would follow — " the value," I went on, 
"would, of course, be less." 

Mrs. Bostock had followed me. I had tempted her 
greed ; I had tested her truth as well. We stood side by 
side immediately beneath the drawing. We examined it 
together. 

At the mention of five pounds the woman had given a 
little gasp, jerking her body at the same time. Now, at 
such close quarters with the thing she hoped to sell me, her 
voice was dumb at first. At first. For a moment later a 
strange sound escaped her lips, a sound that was meant to 
be a cry, but only succeeded in being a wheezy struggle to 
get her breath. Her mouth opened wide, her eyes popped 
almost from her face. She staggered, recovered her balance 
by putting a hand on my arm for support, then stepped still 
nearer to the mantelpiece and thrust her head and shoulders 
close against the drawing. Her blind eyes peered. Her 
skin was already white. 

" Two of 'em ! " she exclaimed in a terrified whisper. 
" Two of 'em, so 'elp me, Gawd ! And the other's him ! " 

I was ready to support. I had expected her to collapse 
perhaps. I felt rather like collapsing myself. She swayed, 
turning her horror-stricken countenance to mine. 

" Mr. Milligan ! " she screamed aloud, then, her voice 



258 STRANGE STORIES 

returning in full volume : " It's Mr. Milligan. All this 
time that's where 'e's been. And I never noticed it till 
now ! " 

She swooned away. 

The second figure faced the room, for the boat was in the 
position of being pushed by the oars, not rowed. The 
features were unmistakable. . . Half an hour later I sent a 
cable to Peking: " Two figures in boat." 

The real climax, I think, came three days later, when, 
with the picture safely in my rooms, I had arranged for 
" specialists " to call and examine it. A chemist, an 
experienced dealer, and a sort of expert psychic investigator 
were already upstairs when I reached my flat. 

The picture was in my bedroom. I had examined it 
myself — examined Milligan's face and figure — hour after 
hour, my flesh crawling, my hair almost rising, as I did so. 
My guests were in the sitting-room, the servant informed 
me, handing me a telegram as I hurried up in the lift. My 
three friends were already known to each other, and, after 
apologising for the delay, I brought in the drawing and laid 
it before them on the small table. I intended to tell them 
the story after their examination ; the psychic investigator 
I meant to keep when the other two had left. Setting the 
drawing in front of them, I looked over their shoulders 
at it. 

There was only one figure — the Chink. He sat alone in 
the little boat. He was rowing, not pushing ; his back was 
to the room. 

The dealer said the drawing was worth a shining ; the 
chemist said nothing ; I, too, said nothing ; but the psychic 
investigator turned sharply and complained that I was 
hurting him. My hand, it seems, had clutched the shoulder 
nearest to me, and it happened to be his. I allowed him to 
leave when the other two left. . . . 



THE MAN WHO WAS MILLIGAN 259 

I was alone. I remembered the telegram. More to 
steady my mind than for any interest I felt in it, my fingers 
tore it open. It was a cablegram from — Peking, signed by 
a friend of Milligan and myself : 

" Milligan died heart failure yesterday." 



THE LITTLE BEGGAR 

HE was on his way from his bachelor flat to the club, a 
man of middle age with a slight stoop, and an ex- 
pression of face firm yet gentle, the blue eyes with light and 
courage in them, and a faint hint of melancholy — or was it 
resignation ? — about the strong mouth. It was early in 
April, a slight drizzle of warm rain falling through the 
coming dusk ; but spring was in the air, a bird sang 
rapturously on a pavement tree. And the man's heart 
wakened at the sound, for it was the lift of the year, and low 
in the western sky above the London roofs there was a band 
of tender colour. 

His way led him past one of the great terminal stations 
that open the gates of London seawards ; the bird, the 
coloured clouds, and the thought of a sunny coast-line 
worked simultaneously in his heart. These messages of 
spring woke music in him. The music, however, found no 
expression, beyond a quiet sigh, so quiet that not even a 
child, had he carried one in his big arms, need have noticed 
it. His pace quickened, his figure straightened up, he 
lifted his eyes and there was a new light in them. Upon 
the wet pavement, where the street lamps already laid 
their network of faint gold, he saw, perhaps a dozen yards 
in front of him, the figure of a little boy. 

The boy, for some reason, caught his attention and his 
interest vividly. He was dressed in Etons, the broad 
white collar badly rumpled, the pointed coat hitched 
grotesquely sideways, while, from beneath the rather 
grimy straw hat, his thick light hair escaped at various 
angles. This general air of effort and distress was due to 

260 



THE LITTLE BEGGAR 261 

the fact that the little fellow was struggling with a bag, 
packed evidently to bursting point, too big and heavy for 
him to manage for more than ten yards at a time. He 
changed it from one hand to the other, resting it in the 
intervals upon the ground, each effort making it rub 
against his leg so that the trousers were hoisted considerably 
above the boot. He was a pathetic figure. 

" I must help him," said the man. " He'll never get 
there at this rate. He'll miss his train to the sea." For 
his destination was obvious, since a pair of wooden spades 
was tied clumsily and insecurely to the straps of the bursting 
bag. 

Occasionally, too, the lad, who seemed about ten years 
old, looked about him to right and left, questionably, 
anxiously, as though he expected someone — someone to 
help, or perhaps to meet him. His behaviour even gave the 
impression that he was not quite sure of his way. The man 
hurried to overtake him. 

" I really must give the little beggar a hand," he repeated 
to himself, as he went. He smiled. The fatherly, pro- 
tective side of him, naturally strong, was touched — touched 
a little more, perhaps, than the occasion seemed to warrant. 
The smile broadened into a jolly laugh, as he came up 
against the great stuffed bag, now resting on the pavement, 
its owner panting beside it, still looking to right and left 
alternately. At which instant, exactly, the boy, hearing his 
step, turned round, and for the first time looked him full in 
the face with a pair of big blue eyes that held unabashed and 
happy welcome in them. .» 

" Oh, I say, sir, it's most awfully ripping of you," he said 
in a confiding voice, before the man had time to speak. " I 
hunted everywhere ; but I never thought of looking behind 
me." 

But the man, standing dumb and astonished for a few 



262 STRANGE STORIES 

seconds beside the little fellow, missed the latter sentence 
altogether, for there was in the clear blue eyes an expression 
so trustful, so frankly affectionate almost, and in the voice 
music of so natural a kind, that all the tenderness in him 
rose like a sudden tide, and he yearned towards the boy as 
though he were his little son. Thought, born of some 
sudden revival of emotion, flashed back swiftly across a 
stretch of twelve blank years. . . . and for an instant the 
lines of the mouth grew deeper, though in the eyes the light 
turned softer, brighter. . . . 

" It's too big for you, my boy," he said, recovering 
himself with a jolly laugh ; " or, rather, you're not big 
enough— yet — for it — eh i Where to, now ? Ah ! the 
station, I suppose r " And he stooped to grasp the handles 
of the bulging bag, first poking the spades more securely in 
beneath the straps ; but in doing so became aware that 
something the boy had said had given him pain. What 
was it f Why was it ? This stray little stranger, met 
upon the London pavements ! Yet so swift is thought that, 
even while he stooped and before his fingers actually 
touched the leather, he had found what hurt him — and 
smiled a little at himself. It was the mode of address the 
boy made use of, contradicting faintly the affectionate 
expression in the eyes. It was the word " sir " that made 
him feel like a schoolmaster or a tutor ; it made him feel 
old. It was not the word he needed, and — yes — had 
longed for, somehow almost expected. And there was such 
strange trouble in his mind and heart that, as he grasped the 
bag, he did not catch the boy's rejoinder to his question. 
But, of course, it must be the railway station ; he was 
going to the seaside for Easter ; his people would be at the 
ticket-office waiting for him. Bracing himself a little for 
the effort, he seized the leather handles and lifted the bag 
from the ground. 



THE LITTLE BEGGAR 263 

"Oh, thanks awfully, sir!" repeated the boy. He 
watched him with a true schoolboy grin of gratitude, as 
though it were great fun, yet also with a true urchin's sense 
that the proper thing had happened, since such jobs, of 
course, were for grown-up men. And this time, though he 
used the objectionable word again, the voice betrayed 
recognition of the fact that he somehow had a right to look 
to this particular man for help, and that this particular man 
only did the right and natural thing in giving help. 

But the man, swaying sideways, nearly lost his balance. 
He had calculated automatically the probable energy 
necessary to lift the weight ; he had put -this energy forth. 
He received a shock as though he had been struck, for the 
bag had no weight at all ; it was as light as a feather. It 
might have been of tissue-paper, a phantom bag. And the 
shock was mental as well as physical. His mind swayed 
with his body. 

" By Jove ! " cried the boy, strutting merrily beside him, 
hands in his pockets. " Thanks most awfully. This is 

jolly!" 

The objectionable word was omitted, but the man 
scarcely heard the words at all. For a mist swam before his 
eyes, the street lamps grew blurred and distant, the drizzle 
thickened in the air. He still heard the wild, sweet song of 
the bird, still knew the west had gold upon its lips. It was 
the rest of the world about him that grew dim. Strange 
thoughts rose in a cloud. Reality and dream played games, 
the games of childhood, through his heart. Memories, 
robed flamingly, trooped past his inner sight, radiant, swift 
and as of yesterday, closing his eyelids for a moment to the 
outer world. Rossetti came to him, singing too sweetly a 
hidden pain in perfect words across those twelve blank 
years : " The Hour that might have been, yet might not 
be, which man's and woman's heart conceived and bore, yet 



264 STRANGE STORIES 

whereof time was barren. . . ." In a second's flash the 
entire sonnet, " Stillborn Love," passed on this inner screen 
" with eyes where burning memory lights love home. . . ." 

Mingled with these — all in an instant of time — came 
practical thoughts as well. This boy ! The ridiculous 
effort he made to carry this ridiculously light bag ! The 
poignant tenderness, the awakened yearning ! Was it a 
girl dressed up ? The happy face, the innocent, confiding 
smile, the music in the voice, the dear soft blue eyes, and yet, 
at the same time, something that was not there — some 
indescribable, incalculable element that was lacking. He 
felt acutely this -curious lack. What was it ? Who was 
this merry youngster ? He glanced down cautiously as 
they moved side by side. He felt shy, hopeful, marvellously 
tender. His heart yearned inexpressibly ; the boy, 
looking elsewhere, did not notice the examination, did not 
notice, of course, that his companion caught his breath and 
walked uncertainly. 

But the man was troubled. The face reminded him, as 
he gazed, of many children, of children he had loved and 
played with, both boys and girls, his Substitute Children, 
as he had always called them in his heart. . . . Then, 
suddenly, the boy came closer and took his arm. They 
were close upon the station now. The sweet human 
perfume of a small, deeply loved, helpless and dependent 
little life rose past his face. 

He suddenly blurted out : " But, I say, this bag of yours 
— it weighs simply nothing ! " 

The boy laughed — a ring of true careless joy was in the 
sound. He looked up. 

" Do you know what's in it i Shall I tell you ? " He 
added in a whisper : " I will, if you like." 

But the man was suddenly afraid and dared not ask. 

" Brown paper probably," he evaded laughingly ; " or 



THE LITTLE BEGGAR 265 

birds' eggs. You've been up to some wicked lark or other." 
The little chap clasped both hands upon the supporting 
arm. He took a quick, dancing step or two, then stopped 
dead, and made the man stop with him. He stood on 
tiptoe to reach the distant ear. His face wore a lovely 
smile of truth and trust and delight. 

" My future," he whispered. And the man turned into 
ice. 

They entered the great station. The last of the daylight 
was shut out. They reached the ticket-office. The 
crowds of hurrying people surged about them. The man 
set down the bag. For a moment or two the boy looked 
quickly about him to right and left, searching, then turned 
his big blue eyes upon the other with his radiant smile : 

" She's in the waiting-room as usual," he said. " I'll go 
and fetch her — though she ought to know you're here." 
He stood on tiptoe, his hands upon the other's shoulders, 
his face thrust close. " Kiss me, father, I shan't be a 
second." 

" You little beggar ! " said the man, in a voice he could 
not control ; then, opening his big arms wide, saw only an 
empty space before him. 

He turned and walked slowly back to his flat instead of to 
the club ; and when he got home he read over for the 
thousandth time the letter — its ink a little faded during the 
twelve intervening years — in which she had accepted his 
love two short weeks before death took her. 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 



THE vitality of old governesses deserves an explanatory 
memorandum by a good physiologist. It is remarkable. 
They tend to survive the grown-up married men and women 
they once taught as children. They hang on for ever, as a 
man might put it crudely, a man, that is, who, taught by 
one of them in his earliest schoolroom days, would answer 
enquiries fifty years later without enthusiasm : " Oh we 
keep her going, yes. She doesn't want for anything ! " 

Miss Helena Speke had taught the children of a dis- 
tinguished family, and these distinguished children, with 
expensive progeny of their own now, still kept her going. 
They had clubbed together, seeing that Miss Speke retained 
her wonderful health, and had established her in a nice 
little house where she could take respectable lodgers — men 
for preference — giving them the three B's — bed, bath, and 
breakfast. Being a capable woman, Miss Speke more than 
made both ends meet. She wanted for nothing. She kept 
going. 

Applicants for her rooms, especially for the first-floor 
suite, had to be recommended. She had a stern face for 
those who rang the bell without a letter in their pockets. 
She never advertised. Indeed, there was no need to do so. 
The two upper floors had been occupied by the same 
tenants for many years — a chief clerk in a branch bank and a 
retired clergyman respectively. It was only the best suite 
that sometimes " happened to be vacant at the moment." 
From two guineas inclusive before the war, her price for 

266 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 267 

this had been raised, naturally, to four, the tenant paying 
his gas-stove, light, and bath extra. Breakfast — she 
prided herself legitimately on her good breakfasts — was 
included. 

For a long time now this first-floor suite had been un- 
occupied. The cost of living worried Miss Speke, as it 
worried most other people. Her servant was cheap but 
incompetent, and once she could let the suite she meant to 
engage a better one. The distinguished children were 
scattered out of reach about the world ; the eldest had been 
killed in the war ; a married one, a woman, lived in India ; 
another married one was in the throes of divorce — an 
expensive business ; and the fourth, the most generous and 
last, found himself in the Bankruptcy Court, and so was 
unable to help. 

It was in these conditions that Miss Speke, her vitality 
impaired, decided to advertise. Although she inserted the 
words " references essential," she meant in her heart to use 
her own judgment, and if a likely gentleman presented 
himself and agreed to pay her price, she might accept him. 
The clergyman and the bank official upstairs were a pro- 
tection, she felt. She invariably mentioned them to 
applicants : " I have a clergyman of the Church of England 
on the top floor. He's been with me for eleven years. 
And a banker has the floor below. Mine is a very quiet 
house, you see." These words formed part of the ritual she 
recited in the hall, facing her proposed tenants on the 
linoleum by the hat-rack ; and it was these words she 
addressed to the tall, thin, pale-faced man with scanty hair 
and spotless linen, who informed her that he was a tutor, a 
teacher of higher mathematics to the sons of various 
families — he mentioned some first-class names where 
references could be obtained — a student besides and some- 
thing of an author in his leisure hours. His pupils he 



268 STRANGE STORIES 

taught, of course, in their respective bouses, one being in 
Belgrave Square, another in The Albany ; it was only- 
after tea, or in the evenings, that he did his own work. 
All this he explained briefly, but with great courtesy of 
manner. 

Mr. Thorley was well spoken, with a gentle voice, kind, 
far-seeing eyes, and an air of being lonely and uncared for 
that touched some forgotten, dried-up spring in Miss Speke's 
otherwise rather cautious heart. He looked every inch a 
scholar — " and a gentleman," as she explained afterwards 
to everybody who was interested in him, these being 
numerous, of unexpected kinds, and all very close, not to 
say unpleasantly close, questioners indeed. But what 
chiefly influenced her in his favour was the fact, elicited in 
conversation, that years ago he had been a caller at the 
house in Portman Square where she was governess to the 
distinguished family. She did not exactly remember him, 
but he had certainly known Lady Araminta, the mother of 
her charges. 

Thus it was that Mr. Thorley — John Laking Thorley, 
M.A., of Jesus College, Cambridge — was accepted by Miss 
Speke as tenant of her best suite on the first floor at the 
price mentioned, breakfast included, winning her confidence 
so fully that she never went to the trouble even of taking up 
the references he gave her. She liked him, she felt safe with 
him, she pitied him. He had not bargained, nor tried to 
beat her down. He just reflected a moment, then agreed. 
He proved, indeed, an exemplary lodger, early to bed and 
not too early to rise, of regular habits, thoughtful of the 
expensive new servant, careful with towels, electric light, 
and ink-stains, prompt in his payments, and never once 
troubling her with complaints or requests, as other lodgers 
did, not excepting the banker and the clergyman. More- 
over, he was a tidy man, who never lost anything, because 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 269 

he invariably put everything in its proper place and thus 
knew exactly where to look for it. She noticed this 
tidiness at once. 

Miss Speke, especially in the first days of his tenancy, 
studied him, as she studied all her lodgers. She studied his 
room, when he was out " of a morning." At her leisure she 
did this, knowing he would never break in and disturb her 
unexpectedly. She was neither prying nor inquisitive, she 
assured herself, but she was curious. " I have a right to 
know something about the gentlemen who sleep under my 
roof with me," was the way she put it in her own mind. 
His clothes, she found, were ample, including evening dress, 
white gloves, and an opera hat. He had plenty of boots and 
shoes. His linen was good. His wardrobe, indeed, though 
a trifle uncared for, especially his socks, was a gentleman's 
wardrobe. Only one thing puzzled her. The full-length 
mirror, standing on mahogany legs — a present from the 
generous " child," now in the Bankruptcy Court, and, a 
handsome thing, a special attraction in the best suite — this 
fine mirror Mr. Thorley evidently did not like. The second 
or third morning he was with her she went to his bedroom 
before the servant had done it up, and saw, to her surprise, 
that this full-length glass stood with its back to the room. 
It had been placed close against the wall in 'a corner, its 
unattractive back turned outward. 

" It gave me quite a shock to see it," as she said after- 
wards . " And such a handsome piece, too ! " 

Her first thought, indeed, sent a cold chill down her 
energetic spine. " He's cracked it ! " But it was not 
cracked. She paused in some amazement, wondering why 
her new lodger had done this thing ; then she turned the 
mirror again into its proper position, and left the room. 
Next morning she found it again with its face close against 
the wall. The following day it was the same — she turned it 



270 STRANGE STORIES 

round, only to find it the next morning again with its back- 
to the room. 

She asked the servant, but the servant knew nothing 
about it. 

" He likes it that way, I suppose, mum," was all Sarah 
said. " I never laid a 'and on it once." 

Miss Speke, after much puzzled consideration, decided it 
must be something to do with the light. Mr. Thorley, she 
remembered, wore horn-rimmed spectacles for reading. 
She scented a mystery. It caused her a slight — oh, a very 
slight — feeling of discomfort. Well, if he did not like the 
handsome mirror, she could perhaps use it in her own room. 
To see it neglected hurt her a little. Not many furnished 
rooms could boast a full-length glass, she reflected. A few 
days later, meeting Mr. Thorley on the linoleum before the 
hat-rack, she enquired if he was quite comfortable, and if 
the breakfast was to his liking. He was polite and even 
cordial. Everything was perfect, he assured her. He had 
never been so well looked after. And the house was so 
quiet. 

" And the bed, Mr. Thorley ? You sleep well, I hope." 
She drew nearer to the subject of the mirror, but with 
caution. For some reason she found a difficulty in actually 
broaching it. It suddenly dawned upon her that there was 
something queer about his treatment of that full-length 
glass. She was by no means fanciful, Miss Speke, retired 
governess ; only the faintest suspicion of something odd 
brushed her mind and vanished. But she did feel some- 
thing. She found it impossible to mention the handsome 
thing outright. 

" There's nothing you would like changed in the room, or 
altered ? " she enquired with a smile, " or — in any way put 
different — perhaps ? " 

Mr. Thorley hesitated for a moment. A curious ex- 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 271 

pression, half sad, half yearning, she thought, lit on his 
thoughtful face for one second and was gone. The idea of 
moving anything seemed distasteful to him. 

" Nothing, Miss Speke, I thank you," he replied court- 
eously, but without delay. " Everything is really just as I 
like it." Then, with a little bow, he asked : " I trust my 
typewriter disturbs nobody. Please let me know if it does." 

Miss Speke assured him that nobody minded the type- 
writer in the least, nor even heard it, and, with another 
charming little bow and a smile, Mr. Thorley went out to 
give his lessons in the higher mathematics. 

" There ! " she reflected, " and I never even asked him ! " 
It had been impossible. 

From the window she watched him going down the street, 
his head bent, evidently in deep thought, his books beneath 
his arm, looking she thought, every inch the gentleman and 
the scholar that he undoubtedly was. His personality 
left a very strong impression on her mind. She found 
herself rather wondering about him. As he turned the 
corner Miss Speke owned to two things that rose simul- 
taneously in her mind : first, the relief that the lodger was 
out for the day and could be counted upon not to return 
unexpectedly ; secondly, that it would interest her to slip 
up and see what kind of books he read. A minute later she 
was in his sitting-room. It was already swept and dusted, 
the breakfast cleared away, and the books, she saw, lay 
partly on the table where he had just left them and 
partly on the broad mantelpiece he used as a shelf. She was 
alone, the servant was downstairs in the kitchen. She 
examined Mr. Tborley's books. 

The examination left her bewildered and uninspired. 
" I couldn't make them out at all," she put it. But 
they were evidently what she called costly volumes, and 
that she liked. " Something to do with his work, I suppose 



272 STRANGE STORIES 

— mathematics, and all that," she decided, after turning 
over pages covered with some kind of hieroglyphics, 
symbols being a word she did not know in that connection. 
There was no printing, there were no sentences, there was 
nothing she could lay hold of, and the diagrams she thought 
perhaps were Euclid, or possibly astronomical. Most of the 
names were odd and quite unknown to her. Gauss 1 
Minowski ! Lobatchewski ! And it affronted her that 
some of these were German. A writer named Einstein was 
popular with her lodger, and that, she felt, was a pity, as 
well as a mistake in taste. It all alarmed her a little ; or, 
rather she felt that touch of respect, almost of awe, per- 
taining to some world entirely beyond her ken. She was 
rather glad when the search — it was a duty — ended. 

" There's nothing there," she reflected, meaning there 
was nothing that explained his dislike of the full-length 
mirror. And, disappointed, yet with a faint relief, she 
turned to his private papers. These, since he was a tidy 
man, were in a drawer. Mr. Thorley never left anything 
lying about. Now, a letter Miss Speke would not have 
thought of reading, but papers, especially learned papers, 
were another matter. Conscience, nevertheless, did prick 
her faintly as she cautiously turned over sheaf after sheaf of 
large white foolscap, covered with designs, and curves, and 
diagrams in ink, the ink he never spilt, and assuredly in his 
recent handwriting. And it was among these foolscap 
sheets that she suddenly came upon one sheet in particular 
that caught her attention and even startled her. In the 
centre, surrounded by scriggly hieroglyphics, numbers, 
curves and lines meaningless to her, she saw a drawing of 
the full-length mirror. Some of the curves ran into it and 
through it, emerging on the other side. She knew it was the 
mirror because its exact measurements were indicated in red 
ink. 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 273 

This, as mentioned, startled her. What could it mean ? 
she asked herself, staring intently at the curious sheet, as 
though it must somehow yield its secret to prolonged even 
if unintelligent enquiry. " It looks like an experiment or 
something," was the furthest her mind could probe into the 
mystery, though this, she admitted, was not very far. Hold- 
ing the paper at various angles, even upside down, she 
examined it with puzzled curiosity, then slowly laid it down 
again in the exact place whence she had taken it. That 
faint breath of alarm had again suddenly brushed her soul, 
as though she approached a mystery she had better leave 
unsolved. 

" It's very strange " she began, carefully closing the 

drawer, but unable to complete the sentence even in her 
mind. " I don't think I like it — quite," and she turned to 
go out. It was just then that something touched her face, 
tickling one cheek, something fine as a cobweb, something 
in the air. She picked it away. It was a thread of silk, 
extremely fine, so fine, indeed, that it might almost have 
been a spider's web of gossamer such as one sees floating 
over the garden lawn on a sunny morning. Miss Speke 
brushed it away, giving it no further thought, and went 
about her usual daily duties. 



II 

But in her mind was established now a vague uneasiness, 
though so vague that at first she did not recognise it. Her 
thought would suddenly pause. " Now, what is it ? " she 
would ask herself. " Something's on my mind. What is 
it I've forgotten ? " The picture of her first-floor lodger 
appeared, and she knew at once. " Oh, yes, it's that 
mirror and the diagrams, of course." Some taut wire of 



274 STRANGE STORIES 

alarm was quivering at the back of her mind. It was akin 
to those childhood alarms that pertain to the big un- 
explained mysteries no parent can elucidate because no 
parent knows. " Only God can tell that," says the parent, 
evading the insoluble problem. " I'd better not think 
about it," was the analogous conclusion reached by Miss 
Speke. Meanwhile the impression the new lodger's 
personality made upon her mind perceptibly deepened. 
He seemed to her full of power, above little things, a man of 
intense and mysterious mental life. He was constantly 
and somewhat possessingly in her thoughts. The mere 
thought of him, she found, stimulated her. 

It was just before luncheon, as she returned from her 
morning marketing, that the servant drew her attention to 
certain marks upon the carpet of Mr. Thorley's sitting-room. 
She had discovered them as she handled the vacuum 
cleaner — faint, short lines drawn by dark chalk or crayons, 
in shape like the top or bottom right-angle of a square 
bracket, and sometimes with a tiny arrow shown as well. 
There were occasional other marks, too, that Miss Speke 
recognised as the hieroglyphics she called squiggles. Mis- 
tress and servant examined them together in a stooping 
position. They found others on the bedroom carpet, too, 
only these were not straight ; they were small curved lines ; 
and about the feet of the full-length mirror they clustered 
in a quantity, segments of circles, some large, some small. 
They looked as if someone had snipped off curly hair, or 
pared his finger-nails with sharp scissors, only considerably 
larger, and they were so faint that they were only visible 
when the sunlight fell upon them. 

" I knew they was drawn on," said Sarah, puzzled, yet 
proud that she had found them, " because they didn't come 
up with the dust and fluff." 

" I'll — speak to Mr. Thorle.y," was the only comment 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 275 

Miss Speke made. " I'll tell him." Her voice was not 
quite steady, but the girl apparently noticed nothing. 

" There's all this, too, please, mum." She pointed to a 
number of fine silk threads she had collected upon a bit of 
newspaper, preparatory to the dust-bin. " They was stuck 
on the cupboard door and the walls, stretched all across the 
room, but rather 'igh up. I only saw them by chance. 
One caught on my face." 

Miss Speke stared, touched, examined for some seconds 
without speaking. She remembered the thread that had 
tickled her own cheek. She looked enquiringly round the 
room, and the servant, following her suggestion, indicated 
where the threads had been attached to walls and furniture. 
No marks, however, were left ; there was no damage done. 

" I'll mention it to Mr. Thorley," said her mistress 
briefly, unwilling to discuss the matter with the new 
servant, much less to admit that she was uncomfortably at 
sea. " Mr. Thorley," she added, as though there was 
nothing unusual, " is a high mathematician. He makes — 
measurements and — calculations of that sort." She had 
not sufficient control of her voice to be more explicit, and 
she went from the room aware that, unaccountably, she was 
trembling. She had first gathered up the threads, meaning 
to show them to her lodger when she demanded an ex- 
planation. But the explanation was delayed, for — to state 
it bluntly — she was afraid to ask him for it. She put it off 
till the following morning, then till the day after, and, 
finally, she decided to say nothing about the matter at all. 
" I'd better leave it, . perhaps, after all," she persuaded 
herself. " There's no damage done, anyhow. I'd better 
not inquire." All the same she did not like it. By the end 
of the week, however, she was able to pride herself upon her 
restraint and tact ; the marks on the carpet, rubbed out by 
the girl, were not renewed, and the fine threads of silk were 



276 STRANGE STORIES 

never again found stretching through the air from wall to 
furniture. Mr. Thorley had evidently noticed their 
removal and had discontinued what he had observed was an 
undesirable performance. He was a scholar and a gentle- 
man. But he was more. He was frank and straight- 
dealing. One morning he asked to see his landlady and 
told her all about it himself. 

" Oh," he said in his pleasantest, easiest manner when 
she came into the room, " I wanted to tell you, Miss Speke — 
indeed, I meant to do so long before this — about the marks I 
made on your carpets " — he smiled apologetically — " and 
the silk threads I stretched. I use them for measurements — - 
for problems I set my pupils, and one morning I left them 
there by mistake. The marks easily rub out. But I will 
use scraps of paper instead another time. I can pin these 
on — if you will kindly tell your excellent servant not to 
touch them — er — they're rather important to me." He 
smiled again charmingly, and his face wore the wistful, 
rather yearning expression that had already appealed to her. 
The eyes, it struck her, were very brilliant. " Any damage," 
he added — " though, I assure you, none is possible really — I 
would of course, make good to you, Miss Speke." 

" Thank you, Mr. Thorley," was all Miss Speke could find 
to say, so confused was her mind by troubling thoughts and 
questions she dared not express. " Of course — this is my 
best suite, you see." 

It was all most amicable and pleasant between them. 

" I wonder — have my books come ? " he asked, as he 
went out. " Ah, there they are, I do believe ! " he ex- 
claimed, for through the open front door a van was seen 
discharging a very large packing-case. 

" Your books, Mr. Thorley ? " Miss Speke mur- 
mured, noting the size of the package with dismay. " But 
I'm afraid — you'll hardly find space to put them in," she 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 277 

stammered. " The rooms — er " — she did not wish to 
disparage them — " are so small, aren't they ? " 

Mr. Thorley smiled delightfully. " Oh, please do not 
trouble on that account," he said. " I shall find space all 
right, I assure you. It's merely a question of knowing 
where and how to put them," and the proceeded to give the 
men instructions. 

A few days later a second case arrived. 

" I'm expecting some instruments, too," he mentioned 
casually, " mathematical instruments," and he again 
assured her with his confident smile that she need have no 
anxiety on the score of space. Nor would he dent the walls 
or scrape the furniture the least little bit. There was 
always room, he reminded her gently again, provided one 
knew how to stow things away. Both books and instru- 
ments were necessary to his work. Miss Speke need feel no 
anxiety at all. 

But Miss Speke felt more than anxiety, she felt uneasiness, 
she felt a singular growing dread. There lay in her a seed of 
distress that began to sprout rapidly. Everything arrived 
as Mr. Thorley had announced, case upon case was un- 
packed in his room by his own hands. The straw and wood 
she used for firing purposes, there was no mess, no litter, no 
untidiness, nor were walls and furniture injured in any way. 
What caused her dread to deepen into something bordering 
upon actual alarm was the fact that, on searching Mr. 
Thorley's rooms when he was out, she could discover no 
trace of any of the things that had arrived. There was no 
sign of either books or instruments. Where had he stored 
them ? Where could they lie concealed ? She asked 
herself innumerable questions, but found no answer to 
them. These stores, enough to choke and block the room, 
had been brought in through the sitting-room door. They 
could not possibly have been taken out again. They had 



278 STRANGE STORIES 

not been taken out. Y<:t no trace of them was anywhere to 
be seen. It was very s trange, she thought ; indeed, it was 
more than strange. She felt excited. She felt a touch of 
hysterical alarm. 

Meanwhile, thin strips of white paper, straight, angled, 
curved, were pinned upon the carpet ; threads of finest silk 
again stretched overhead connecting the top of the door 
lintel with the window, the high cupboard with the curtain 
rods — yet too high to be brushed away merely by the head 
of anyone moving in the room. And the full-length mirror 
still stood with its face close against the wall. 

The mystery of these aerial entanglements increased Miss 
Speke's alarm considerably. What could their purpose 
be ? " Thank God," she thought, " this isn't war time ! " 
She knew enough to realise their meaning was not " wire- 
less." That they bore some relation to the lines on the 
carpet and to the diagrams and curves upon the paper, she 
grasped vaguely. But what it all meant baffled her and 
made her feel quite stupid. Where all the books and 
instruments had disappeared added to her bewilderment. 
She felt more and more perturbed. A vague, uncertain fear 
was worse than something definite she could face and deal 
with. Her fear increa$ed. Then, suddenly, yet with a 
reasonable enough excuse, Sarah gave notice. 

For some reason Miss Speke did not argue with the girl. 
She preferred to let the real meaning of her leaving remain 
unexpressed. She just let her go. But the fact disturbed 
her extraordinarily. Sarah had given every satisfaction, 
there had been no sign of a grievance, no complaint, the 
work was not hard, the pay was good. It was simply that 
the girl preferred to leave. Miss Speke attributed it to Mr. 
Thorley. She became more and more disturbed in mind. 
Also she found herself, more and more, avoiding her lodger, 
whose regular habits made such avoidance an easy matter. 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 279 

Knowing his hours of exit, and entrance, she took care to be 
out of the way. At the mere sound of his step she flew to 
cover. The new servant, a stupid, yet not inefficient 
country girl, betrayed no reaction of any sort, no unfavour- 
able reaction at any rate. Having received her instructions, 
Lizzie did her work without complaint from either side. 
She did not remove the paper and the thread, nor did she 
mention them. She seemed just the country clod she was. 
Miss Speke, however, began to have restless nights. She 
contracted an unpleasant habit : she lay awake — listening. 



Ill 

As the result of one of these sleepless nights she came to 
the abrupt conclusion that she would be happier without 
Mr. Thorley in the house — only she had not the courage to 
ask him to leave. The truth was she had not the courage 
to speak to him at all, much less to give him notice, however 
nicely. 

After much cogitation she hit upon a plan that promised 
well : she sent him a carefully worded letter explaining that, 
owing to increased cost of living, she found herself compelled 
to raise his terms. The " raise " was more than consider- 
able, it was unreasonable, but he paid what she demanded, 
sending down a cheque for three months in advance with his 
best compliments. The letter somehow made her tremble. 
It was at this stage she first became aware of the existence 
in her of other feelings than discomfort, uneasiness, and 
alarm. These other feelings, being in contradiction of her 
dread, were difficult to describe, but their result was plain — 
she did not really wish Mr. Thorley to go after all. His 
friendly " compliments," his refusal of her hint, caused her a 



2 8o STRANGE STORIES 

secret pleasure. It was not the cheque at the increased rate 
that pleased her — it was simply the fact that her lodger 
meant to stay. 

It might be supposed that some delayed sense of romance 
had been stirred in her, but this really was not the case at 
all. Her pleasure was due to another source, but to a source 
uncommonly obscure and very strange. She feared him, 
feared his presence, above all, feared going into his room, 
while yet there was something about the mere idea of Mr. 
Thorley that entranced her. Another thing may as well be 
told at once — she herself faced it boldly — she would enter 
his dreaded room, when he was out, and would deliberately 
linger there. There was an odd feeling in the room that 
gave her pleasure, and more than pleasure — happiness. 
Surrounded by the enigmas of his personality, by the lines 
and curves of white paper pinned upon her carpet, by the 
tangle of silken threads above her head, by the mysterious 
books, the more than mysterious diagrams in his drawer — 
yet all these, even the dark perplexity of the rejected mirror 
and the vanished objects, were forgotten in the curious 
sense of happiness she derived from merely sitting in his 
room. Her fear contained this other remarkable ingredient 
— an uncommon sense of joy, of liberty, of freedom. She 
felt exalte e. 

She could not explain it, she did not attempt to do so. 
She would go shaking and trembling into his room, and a 
few minutes later this sense of uncommon happiness — of 
release, almost of escape, she felt it — would steal over her as 
though in her dried-up frozen soul spring had burst upon 
midwinter, as though something that crawled had suddenly 
most gloriously found wings. An indescribable exhilaration 
caught her. 

Under this influence the dingy street turned somehow 
radiant, and the front door of her poor lodging-house 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 281 

opened upon blue seas, yellow sands, and mountains 
carpeted with flowers. Her whole life, painfully repressed 
and crushed down in the dull service of conventional 
nonentities, flashed into colour, movement, and adventure. 
Nothing confined her. She was no longer limited. She 
knew advance in all possible directions. She knew the 
stars. She knew escape ! 

An attempt has been made to describe for her what she 
never could have described herself. 

The reaction, upon coming out again, was painful. Her 
life in the past as a governess, little better than a servant ; 
her life in the present as lodging-house keeper ; her struggle 
with servants, with taxes, with daily expenses; her 
knowledge that no future but a mere " living " lay in front 
of her until the grave was reached— these overwhelmed her 
with an intense depression that the contrast rendered 
almost insupportable. Whereas in his room she had 
perfume,^ freedom, liberty, and wonder— the wonder of 
some entirely new existence. 

Thus, briefly, while Miss Speke longed for Mr. Thorley to 
leave her house, she became obsessed with the fear that one 
day he really would go. Her mind, it is seen, became 
uncommonly disturbed; her lodger's presence being 
undoubtedly the cause. Her nights were now more than 
restless, they were sleepless. Whence came, she asked 
herself repeatedly in the dark watches, her fear .? Whence 
came, too, her strange enchantment ? 

It was at this juncture, then, that a further item of 
perplexity was added to her mind. Miss Speke, as has 
been seen, was honourably disposed ; she respected the 
rights of others, their property as well. Yet, included in 
the odd mood of elation the room and its atmosphere 
caused her, was also a vagrant, elusive feeling that the 
intimate, the personal— above all, the personal— had lost 



282 STRANGE STORIES 

their original rigidity. Small individual privacies, secrecy, 
no longer held their familiar meaning quite. The idea that 
most things in life were to be shared slipped into her. A 
" secret," to this expansive mood, was a childish attitude. 

At any rate, it was while lingering in her lodger's attrac- 
tive room one day — a habit now — that she did something 
that caused her surprise, yet did not shock her. She saw an 
open letter lying on his table — and she read it. 

Rather than an actual letter, however, it seemed a note, a 
memorandum. It began " To J. L. T." 

In a boyish writing, the meaning of the language escaped 
her entirely. She understood the strange words as little as 
she understood the phases of the moon, while yet she derived 
from their perusal a feeling of mysterious beauty, similar to 
the emotions the changes of that lovely satellite stirred in 
her : 

" To J. L. T. 

" I followed your instructions, though with intense effort 
and difficulty. I woke at 4 o'clock. About ten minutes 
later, as you said might happen, I woke a second time. The 
change into the second state was as great as the change 
from sleeping to waking, in the ordinary meaning of these 
words. But I could not remain ' awake.' I fell asleep 
again in about a minute — back into the usual waking state, 
I mean. Description in words is impossible, as you know. 
What I felt was too terrific to feel for long. The new 
energy must presently have burned me up. It frightened 
me — as you warned me it would. And this fear, no doubt, 
was the cause of my ' falling asleep ' again so quickly. 

" Cannot we arrange a Call for Help for similar occasions 

in future ? 

" G. P." 

Against this note Mr. Thorley had written various 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 285 

Strangest " squiggles " ; higher mathematics, Miss Speke 
supposed. In the opposite margin, also in her lodger's 
writing, were these words : 

"We must agree on a word to use when frightened. 
Help, or Help me, seems the best. To be uttered with the 
whole being." 

Mr. Thorley had added a few other notes. She read them 
without the faintest prick of conscience. Though she 
understood no single sentence, a thrill of deep delight ran 
through her : 

" It amounts, of course, to a new direction ; a direction at 
right angles to all we know, a new direction in oneself, a 
new direction— in living. But it can, perhaps, be translated 
into mathematical terms by the intellect. This, however, 
only a simile at best. Cannot be experienced that way. 
Actual experience possible only to changed consciousness. 
But good to become mathematically accustomed to it. 
The mathematical experiments are worth it. They induce 
the mind, at any rate, to dwell upon the new direction. 
This helps . . ." 

Miss Speke laid down the letter exactly where she had 
found it. No shame was in her. " G. P.," she knew, 
meant Gerald Pikestaffe ; he was one of her lodger's best 
pupils, the one in Belgrave Square. Her feeling of myster- 
ious elation, as already mentioned, seemed above all such 
matters as small secrecies or petty personal privacies. She 
had read a " private " letter without remorse. One feeling 
only caused in her a certain commonplace emotion : the 
feeling that, while she read the letter, her lodger was 
present, watching her. He seemed close behind her,. 



284 STRANGE STORIES 

looking over her shoulder almost, observing her acts, her 
mood, her very thoughts— yet not objecting. He was 
aware, at any rate, of what she did. . . . 

It was under these circumstances that she bethought 
herself of her old tenant, the retired clergyman on the top 
floor, and sought his aid. The consolation of talking to 
another would be something, yet when the interview began 
all she could manage to say was that her mind was troubled 
and her heart not quite as it should be, and that she " didn't 
know what to do about it all." For the life of her she could 
not find more definite words. To mention Mr. Thorley she 
found suddenly utterly impossible. 

"Prayer," the old man interrupted her half-way, 
"prayer, my dear lady. Prayer, I find," he repeated 
smoothly, " is always the best course in all one's troubles 
and perplexities. Leave it to God. He knows. And in 
His good time He will answer." He advised her to read the 
Bible and Longfellow. She added Florence Barclay to the 
list and followed his advice. The books, however, com- 
forted her very little. 

After some hesitation she then tried her other tenant. 
But the " banker " stopped her even sooner than the 
clergyman had done. MacPherson was very prompt : 

" I can give you another ten shillings or maybe half a 
guinea," he said briskly. " Times are deeficult, I know. 
But I can't do more. If that's suffeecient I shall be 

delighted to stay on " and, with a nod and a quick 

smile that settled the matter then and there, he was 
through the door and down the steps on the way to his 
office. 

It was evident that Miss Speke must face her troubles 
alone, a fact, for the rest, life had already taught her. The 
loyal, courageous spirit in her accepted the situation. The 
alternate moods of happiness and depression, meanwhile, 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 285 

began to wear out. " If only Mr. Thorley would go ! If 
only Mr. Thorley will not go ! " For some weeks now she 
had successfully avoided him. He made no requests nor 
complaints. His habits were as regular as sunrise, his 
payments likewise. Not even the servant mentioned him. 
He became a shadow in the house. 

Then, with the advent of summer-time, he came home, as 
it were, an hour earlier than usual. He invariably worked 
from 5.30 to 7.30, when he went out for his dinner. Tea he 
always had at a pupil's house. It was a light evening, 
caused by the advance of the clock, and Miss Speke, 
mending her underwear at the window, suddenly perceived 
his figure coming down the street. 

She watched, fascinated. Of two instincts — to hide 
herself, or to wait there and catch his eye — she obeyed the 
latter. She had not seen him for several weeks, and a deep 
thrill of happiness ran through her. His walk was peculiar, 
she noticed at once ; he did not walk in a straight line. 
His tall, thin outline flowed down the pavement in long, 
sweeping curves, yet quite steadily. He was not drunk. 
He came nearer ; he was not twenty feet away ; at ten feet 
she saw his face clearly, and received a shock. It was 
worn, and thin, and wasted, but a light of happiness, of 
something more than happiness indeed, shone in it. He 
reached the area railings. He looked up. His face seemed 
ablaze. Their eyes met, his with no start of recognition, 
hers with a steady stare of wonder. She ran into the 
passage, and before Mr. Thorley had time to use his latch- 
key she had opened the door for him herself. Little she 
knew, as she stood there trembling, that she stood also 
upon the threshold of an amazing adventure. 

Face to face with him her presence of mind deserted her. 
She could only look up into that worn and wasted face, into 
those happy, severe, and brilliant eyes, where yet burned a 



286 STRANGE STORIES 

strange expression of wistful yearning, of uncommon 
wonder, of something that seemed not of this world quite. 
Such an expression she had never seen before upon any 
human countenance. Its light dazzled her. There was 
uncommon fire in the eyes. It enthralled her. The same 
instant, as she stood there gazing at him without a single 
word, either of welcome or enquiry, it flashed across her 
that he needed something from her. He needed help, her 
help. It was a far-fetched notion, she was well aware, but 
it came to her irresistibly. The conviction was close to her, 
closer than her skin. • 

It was this knowledge, doubtless, that enabled her to hear 
without resentment the strange words he at once made use 
of. 

" Ah, I thank you, Miss Speke, I thank you," the thin 
lips parting in a smile, the shining eyes lit with an emotion 
of more than ordinary welcome. " You cannot know 
what a relief it is to me to see you. You are so sound, so 
wholesome, so ordinary, so — forgive me, I beg — so 
commonplace." 

He was gone past her and upstairs into his sitting-room. 
She heard the key turn softly. She was aware that she had 
not shut the front door. She did so, then went back, 
trembling, happy, frightened, into her own room. She had 
a curious, rushing feeling, both frightful and bewildering, 
that the room did not contain her. . . . She was still 
sitting there two hours later, when she heard Mr. Thorley's 
step come down the stairs and leave the house. She was 
still sitting there when she heard him return, open the door 
with his key, and go up to his sitting-room. The interval 
might have been two minutes or two weeks, instead of two 
hours merely. And all this time she had the wondrous 
sensation that the room did not contain her. The walls 
and ceilings did not shut her in. She was out of the room. 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE " 287 

Escape had come very close to her. She was out of the 
house . . . out of herself as well. . . . 



IV 

She went early to bed, taking this time the Bible with her. 
Her strange sensations had passed, they had left her 
gradually. She had made herself a cup of tea and had 
eaten a soft-boiled egg and some bread-and-butter. She 
felt more normal again, but her nerves were unusually 
sensitive. It was a comfort to know there were two men 
in the house with her, two worthy men, a clergyman and a 
banker. The Bible, the banker, the clergyman, with Mrs. 
Barclay and Longfellow not far from her bed, were certainly 
a source of comfort to her. 

The traffic died away, the rumbling of the distant motor- 
buses ceased, and, with the passing of the hours, the night 
became intensely still. 

It was April. Her window was opened at the top and 
she could smell the cool, damp air of coming spring. Soothed 
by the books she began to feel drowsy. She glanced at the 
clock — it was just on two — then blew out the candle and 
prepared to sleep. Her thoughts turned automatically to 
Mr. Thorley, lying asleep on the floor above, his threads and 
paper strips and mysterious diagrams all about him — 
when, suddenly, a voice broke through the silence with a 
cry for help. It was a man's voice, and it sounded a long 
way off. But she recognised it instantly, and she sprang 
out of bed without a trace of fear. It was Mr. Thorley 
calling, and in the voice was anguish. 

" He's in trouble ! In danger ! He needs help ! I 
knew it ! " ran rapidly through her mind, as she lit the 
candle with fingers that did not tremble. The clock 



288 STRANGE STORIES 

showed three. . She had slept a full hour. She opened the 
door and peered into the passage, but saw no one there ; the 
stairs, too, were empty. The call was not repeated. 

" Mr. Thorley ! " she cried aloud. " Mr. Thorley ! Do 
you want anything ? " And by the sound of her voice she 
realised how distant and muffled his own had been. " I'm 
coming ! " 

She stood there waiting, but no answer came. There was 
no sound. She realised the uncommon stillness of the 
night. 

" Did you call me ? " she tried again, but with less 
confidence. " Can I do anything for you ? " 

Again there was no answer ; nothing stirred ; the house 
was silent as the grave. The linoleum felt cold against her 
bare feet, and she stole back to get her slippers and a 
dressing-gown, while a hundred possibilities flashed through 
her mind at once. Oddly enough, she never once thought 
of burglars, nor of fire, nor, indeed, of any ordinary situation 
that required ordinary help. Why this was so she could not 
say. No ordinary fear, at any rate, assailed her in that 
moment, nor did she feel the smallest touch of nervousness 
about her own safety. 

" Was it — I wonder — a dream ? " she asked herself as she 
pulled the dressing-gown about her. " Did I dream that 

voice ? " when the thrilling cry broke forth again, 

startling her so that she nearly dropped the candle. 

"Help! Help! Help me ! " 

Very distinct, yet muffled as by distance, it was beyond 
all question the voice of Mr. Thorley. What she had taken 
for anguish in it she now recognised was terror. It sounded 
on the floor above, it was the closed door doubtless that 
caused the muffled effect of distance. 

Miss Speke ran along the passage instantly, and with 
extraordinary speed for an elderly woman ; she was half- 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 289 

way up the stairs in a moment, when, just as she reached the 
first little landing by the bathroom and turned to begin the 
second flight the voice came again : " Help ! Help ! " but 
this time with a difference that, truth to tell, did set her 
nerves unpleasantly aquiver. For there were two voices 
instead of one, and they were not upstairs at all. Both 
were below her in the passage she had just that moment left. 
Close they were behind her. One, moreover, was not the 
voice of Mr. Thorley. It was a boy's clear soprano. Both 
called for help together, and both held a note of terror that 
made her heart shake. 

Under these conditions it may be forgiven to Miss Speke 
that she lost her balance and reeled against the wall, 
clutching the banisters for a moment's support. Yet her 
courage did not fail her. She turned instantly and quickly 
went downstairs again — to find the passage empty of any 
living figure. There was no one visible. There was only 
silence, a motionless hat-rack, the door of her own room 
slightly ajar, and shadows. 

"Mr. Thorley!" she called. "Mr. Thorley!" her 
voice not quite so loud and confindet as before. It had a 
whisper in it. No answer came. She repeated the words, 
her tone with still less volume. Only faint echoes that 
seemed to linger unduly came in response. Peering into 
her own room she found it exactly as she had left it. The 
dining-room, facing it, was likewise empty. Yet a moment 
before she had plainly heard two voices calling for help 
within a few yards of where she stood. Two voices ! 
What could it mean ? She noticed now for the first time a 
peculiar freshness in the air, a sharpness, almost a perfume, 
as though all the windows were wide open and the air of 
coming spring was in the house. 

Terror, though close, had not yet actually gripped her. 
That she had gone crazy occurred to her, but only to be 



290 STRANGE STORIES 

dismissed. She was quite sane and self-possessed. The 
changing direction of the sounds lay beyond all explanation, 
but an explanation, she was positive, there must be. The 
odd freshness in the air was heartening, and seemed to 
brace her. No, terror had not yet really gripped her. 
Ideas of summoning the servant, the clergyman, the 
banker, these she equally dismissed. It was no ordinary 
help that was needed, not theirs at any rate. She went 
boldly upstairs again and knocked at Mr. Thorley's bed- 
room door. She knocked again and again, loud enough to 
waken him, if he had perchance called out in sleep, but not 
loud enough to disturb her other tenants. No answer came. 
There was no sound within. No light shone through the 
cracks. With his sitting-room the same conditions held. 

It was the strangeness of the second voice that now stole 
over her with a deadly fear. She found herself cold and 
shivering. As she, at length, went slowly downstairs 
again the cries were suddenly audible once more. She 
heard both voices : " Help ! Help ! Help me ! " Then 
silence. They were fainter this time. Far away, they 
sounded, withdrawn curiously into some remote distance, 
yet ever with the same anguish, the same terror in them as 
before. The direction, however, this time she could not 
tell at all. In a sense they seemed both close and far, both 
above her and below ; they seemed — it was the only way 
she could describe the astounding thing — in any direction, 
or in all directions. 

Miss Speke was really terrified at last. The strange, full 
horror of it gripped her, turning her heart suddenly to ice. 
The two voices, the terror in them, the extraordinary 
impression that they had withdrawn further into some 
astounding distance — this overcame her. She became 
appalled. Staggering into her room, she reached the bed 
and fell upon it in a senseless heap. She had fainted. 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 291 

V 

She slept late, owing probably to exhausted nerves. 
Though usually up and about by 7.30, it was after nine 
when the servant woke her. She sprawled half in the bed, 
half out ; the candle, which luckily had extinguished itself 
in falling, lay upon the carpet. The events of the night 
came slowly back to her as she watched the servant's face. 
The girl was white and shaking. 

" Are you ill, mum ? " Lizzie asked anxiously in a 
whisper ; then, without waiting for an answer, blurted out 
what she had really come in to say : " Mr. Thorley, mum ! 
I can't get into his room. There's no answer." The girl 
was very frightened. 

Mr. Thorley invariably had breakfast at 8 o'clock, and 
was out of the house punctually at 8.45. 

" Was he ill in the night — perhaps — do you think ? " 
Miss Speke said. It was the nearest she could get to asking 
if the girl had heard the voices. She had admirable control 
of herself by this time. She got up, still in her dressing- 
gown and slippers. 

" Not that I know of, mum," was the reply. 

"Come," said her mistress firmly. "We'll go in." 
And they went upstairs together. 

The bedroom door, as the girl had said, was closed, but 
the sitting-room was open. Miss Speke led the way. The 
freshness of the night before lay still in the air, she noticed, 
though the windows were all closed tightly. There was an 
exhilarating sharpness, a delightful tang as of open space. 
She particularly mentions this. On the carpet, as usual, 
lay the strips of white paper, fastened with small pins, and 
the silk threads, also as usual, stretched across from lintel to 
cupboard, from window to bracket. Miss Speke brushed 
several of them from her face. 



292 STRANGE STORIES 

The door into the bedroom she opened, and went boldly 
in, followed more cautiously by the girl. " There's nothing 
to be afraid of," said her mistress firmly. The bed, she 
saw, had not been slept in. Everything was neat and tidy. 
The long mirror stood close against the wall, showing its 
ugly back as usual, while about its four feet clustered the 
curved strips of paper Miss Speke had grown accustomed to. 

" Pull the blinds up, Lizzie," she said in a quiet voice. 

The light now enabled her to see everything quite clearly. 
There were silken threads, she noticed distinctly, stretching 
from bed to window, and though both windows were closed 
there was this strange sweetness in the air as of a flowering 
s P rn g garden. She sniffed it with a curious feeling of 
freedom, of release, though Lizzie, apparently, noticed 
nothing of all this. 

" There's his 'at and mackintosh," the girl whispered in a 
frightened voice, pointing to the hooks on the door. " And 
the umbrella in the corner. But I don't see 'is boots mum. 
They weren't put out to be cleaned. 

Miss Speke turned and looked at her, voice and manner 
under full command. " What do you mean ? " she asked. 

" Mr Thorley ain't gone out, mum," was the reply in a 
tremulous tone. 

At that very moment a faint, distant cry was audible in a 
man's voice : " Help ! Help ! " Immediately after it a 
soprano, fainter still, called from what seemed even greater 
distance : " Help me ! " The direction was not ascertain- 
able. It seemed both in the room, yet far away outside in 
space above the roofs. A glance at the girl convinced Miss 
Speke that she had heard nothing. 

" Mr. Thorley is not here," whispered Miss Speke, one 
hand upon the brass bed-rail for support. 

The room was undeniably empty. 

" Leave everything exactly as it is," ordered her mistress 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 293 

as they went out. Tears stood in her eyes, she lingered a 
moment on the threshold, but the sounds were not repeated. 
" Exactly as it is," she repeated, closing the bedroom and 
then the sitting-room door behind her. She locked the 
latter, putting the key in her pocket. Two days later, as 
Mr. Thorley had not returned, she informed the police. 
But Mr. Thorley never returned. He had disappeared 
completely. He left no trace. He was never heard of 
again, though — once — he was seen. 

Yet, this is not entirely accurate perhaps, for he was seen 
twice, in the sense that he was seen by two persons, and 
though he was not " heard of," he was certainly heard. 
Miss Speke heard his voice from time to time. She heard it 
in the daytime and at night ; calling for help and always 
with the same words she had first heard : " Help ! Help ! 
Help me ! " It sounded very far away, withdrawn into 
immense distance, the distance ever increasing. Occasion- 
ally she heard the boy's voice with it ; they called together 
sometimes ; she never heard the soprano voice alone. 
But the anguish and terror she had first noticed were no 
longer present. Alarm had gone out of them. It was 
more like an echo that she heard. Through all the hubbub, 
confusion and distressing annoyance of the police search 
and enquiry, the voice and voices came to her, though she 
never mentioned them to a single living soul, not even to 
her old tenants, the clergyman and the banker. They kept 
their rooms on— which was about all she could have asked 
of them. The best suite was never let again. It was kept 
locked and empty. The dust accumulated. The mirror 
remained untouched, its face against the wall. 

The voices, meanwhile, grew more and more faint ; the 
distance seemed to increase ; soon the voice of the boy was 
no longer heard at all, only the cry of Mr. Thorley, her 
mysterious but perfect lodger, sang distantly from time to 



294 STRANGE STORIES 

time, both in the sunshine and in the still darkness of the 
night hours. The direction whence it came, too, remained, 
as before, undeterminable. It came from anywhere and 
everywhere — from above, below, on all sides. It had 
become, too, a pleasant, even a happy sound ; no dread 
belonged to it any more. The intervals grew longer then ; 
days first, then weeks passed without a sound ; and 
invariably, after these increasing intervals, the voice had 
become fainter, weaker, withdrawn into ever greater and 
greater distance. With the coming of the warm spring 
days it grew almost inaudible. Finally, with the great 
summer heats, it died away completely. 



VI 

The disappearance of Mr. Thorley, however, had caused 
no public disturbance on its own account, nor until it was 
bracketed with another disappearance, that of one of his 
pupils, Sir Mark Pikestaffe's son. The Pikestaffe Case then 
became a daily mystery that filled the papers. Mr. Thorley 
was of no consequence, whereas Sir Mark was a figure in the 
public eye. 

Mr. Thorley's life, as enquiry proved, held no mystery. 
He had left everything in order. He did not owe a penny. 
He owned, indeed, considerable property, both in land and 
securities, and teaching mathematics, especially to promis- 
ing pupils, seemed to have been a hobby merely. A half- 
brother called eventually to take away his few possessions, 
but the books and instruments he had brought into the 
lodging-house were never traced. He was a scholar and a 
gentleman to the last, a man, too, it appeared, of immense 
attainments and uncommon ability, one of the greatest 
mathematical brains, if the modest obituaries were to be 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 295 

believed, the world has ever known. His name now passed 
into oblivion. He left no record of his researches or 
achievements. Out of some mysterious sense of loyalty 
and protection Miss Speke never Mentioned his peculiar 
personal habits. The strips of paper, as the silken threads, 
she had carefully removed and destroyed long before the 
police came to make their search of his rooms. . . . 

But the disappearance of young Gerald Pikestaffe raised 
a tremendous hubbub. It was some days before the two 
disappearances were connected, both having occurred on 
the same night, it was then proved. The boy, a lad of 
great talent, promising a brilliant future, and the favourite 
pupil of the older man, his tutor, had not even left the 
house. His room was empty— and that was all. He left 
no clue, no trace. Terrible hints and suggestions were, 
of course, spread far and wide, but there was not a scrap 
of evidence forthcoming to support them, Gerald Pikestaffe 
and Mr. Thorley, at the same moment of the same night, 
vanished from the face of the earth and were no more 
seen. The matter ended there. The one link between them 
appeared to have been an amazing, an exceptional gift 
for higher mathematics. The Pikestaffe Case merely added 
one more to the insoluble mysteries with which common- 
place daily life is sprinkled. 

It was some six weeks to a month after the event that 
Miss Speke received a letter from one of her former charges, 
the most generous one, now satisfactorily finished with 
the Bankruptcy Court. He had honourably discharged 
his obligations ; he was doing well ; he wrote and asked 
Miss Speke to put him up for a week or two. " And do 
please give me Mr. Thorley's room," he asked. " The case 
thrilled me, and I should like to sleep in that room. I 
always loved mysteries, you remember. . . . There's some- 



296 STRANGE STORIES 

thing very mysterious about this thing. Besides, I knew 
the P. boy a little — an astounding genius, if ever there 
was one." 

Though it cost her much effort and still more hesitation, 
she consented finally. She prepared the rooms herself. 
There was a new servant, Lizzie having given notice the 
day after the disappearance, and the older woman who 
now waited upon the clergyman and the banker was not 
quite to be trusted with the delicate job. Miss Speke, 
entering the empty rooms on tiptoe, a strange trepidation 
in her heart, but that same heart firm with courage, drew 
up the blinds, swept the floors, dusted the furniture, and 
made the bed. All she did with her own hands. Only the 
full-length mirror she did not touch. What terror still 
was in her clung to that handsome piece. It was haunted 
by memories. For her it was still both wonderful and 
somehow awful. The ghost of her strange experience hid 
invisibly in its polished, if now unseen, depths. She dared 
not handle it, far less move it from the resting-place where 
it rested in peace. His hands had placed it there. To her 
it was sacred. 

It had been given to her by Colonel Lyle, who would 
now occupy the room, stand on the wondrous carpet, move 
through the air where once the mysterious silks had floated, 
sleep in the very bed itself. All this he could do, but the 
mirror he must not touch. 

" I'll explain to him a little. I'll beg him not to move 
it. He's very understanding," she said to herself, as she 
went out to buy some flowers for the sitting-room. Colonel 
Lyle was expected that very afternoon. Lilac, she remem- 
bered, was what he always liked. It took her longer than 
she expected to find really fresh bunches, of the colour that 
he preferred, and when she got back it was time to be 
thinking about his tea. The sun's rays fell slanting down 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 297 

the dingy street, touching it with happy gold. This, with 
thoughts of the tea-kettle and what vase would suit the 
flowers best, filled her mind as she passed along the linoleum 
in the narrow hall — then noticed suddenly a new hat and 
coat hanging on the usually empty pegs. Colonel Lyle had 
arrived before his time. 

" He's already come," she said to herself with a little 
gasp. A heavy dread settled instantly on her spirit. She 
stood a moment motionless in the passage, the lilac blossoms 
in her hand. She was listening. 

" The gentleman's come, mum," she heard the servant 
say, and at the same moment saw her at the top of the 
kitchen stairs in the hall. " He went up to his room, 
mum." 

Miss Speke held out the flowers. With an effort to make 
her voice sound ordinary she gave an order about them. 
" Put them in water, Mary, please. The double vase will 
do." She watched the woman take them slowly, oh, so 
slowly, from her. But her mind was elsewhere. It was 
still listening. And after the woman had gone down to 
the kitchen again slowly, oh, so slowly, she stood motionless 
for some minutes, listening, still intently listening. But 
no sound broke the quiet of the afternoon. She heard only 
the blundering noises made by the woman in the kitchen 
below. On the floor above was — silence. 

Miss Speke then turned and went upstairs. 

Now, Miss Speke admits frankly that she was " in a 
state," meaning thereby, doubtless, that her nerves were 
tightly strung. Her heart was thumping, her ears and 
eyes strained to their utmost capacity ; her hands, she 
remembers, felt a little cold, and her legs moved uncertainly. 
She denies, however, that her " state," though it may be 
described as nervous, could have betrayed her into either 
invention or delusion. What she saw, she saw; and nothing 



298 STRANGE STORIES 

can shake her conviction. Colonel Lyle, besides, is there 
to support her in the main outline, and Colonel Lyle, when 
first he had entered the room, was certainly not " in a 
state," whatever excuses he may have offered later to 
comfort her. Moreover, to counteract her trepidation, she 
says that, as she pushed the door wide open — it was already 
ajar — the original mood of elation met her in the face with 
its lift of wonder and release. This modified her dread. 
She declares that joy rushed upon her, and that her 
" nerves " were on the instant entirely forgotten. 

" What I saw, I saw," remains her emphatic and 
unshakable verdict. " I saw — everything." 

The first thing she saw admitted certainly of no doubt. 
Colonel Lyle lay huddled up against the further wall, half 
upon the carpet and half-leaning on the wainscoting. He 
was unconscious. One arm was stretched towards the 
mirror, the hand still clutching one of its mahogany feet. 
And the mirror had been moved. It turned now slightly 
more towards the room. 

The picture, indeed, told its own story, a story Colonel 
Lyle himself repeated afterwards when he had recovered. 
He was surprised to find the mirror — his mirror — with its 
face to the wall ; he went forward to put it in its proper 
position ; in doing this he looked into it ; he saw some- 
thing, and — the next thing he knew — Miss Speke was 
bringing him round. 

She explains, further, that her overmastering curiosity 
to look into the mirror, as Colonel Lyle had evidently 
looked himself, prevented her from immediately rendering 
first-aid to that gentleman, as she unquestionably should 
have done. Instead, she crossed the room, stepped over 
his huddled form, turned the mirror a little further round 
towards her, and looked straight into it. 

The eye, apparently, takes in a great deal more than the 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 299 

mind is consciously aware of having " seen " at the moment. 
Miss Speke saw everything, she claims. But details 
certainly came back to her later, details she had not been 
aware of at the time. At the moment, however, her 
impressions, though extremely vivid, were limited to 
certain outstanding items. These items were — that her 
own reflection was not visible, no picture of herself being 
there ; that Mr. Thorley and a boy — she recognised the 
Pikestaffe lad from the newspaper photographs she had 
seen — were plainly there, and that books and instruments 
in great quantity filled all the nearer space, blocking up 
the foreground. Beyond, behind, stretching in all direc- 
tions, she affirms, was empty space that produced upon her 
the effect of the infinite heavens as seen in a clear night 
sky. This space was prodigious, yet in some way not 
alarming. It did not terrify ; rather it comforted, and, 
in a sense, uplifted. A diffused soft light pervaded the 
huge panorama. There were no shadows, there were no 
high lights. 

Curiously enough, however, the absence of any repro- 
duction of herself did not at first strike her as at all out 
of the way ; she noticed the fact, no more than that ; it 
was, perhaps, naturally, the deep shock of seeing Mr. 
Thorley and the boy that held her absolutely spell-bound, 
arresting her faculties as though they had been frozen. 

Mr. Thorley was moving to and fro, his body bent, his 
hand thrown forward. He looked as natural as in life. 
He moved steadily, as with a purpose, now nearer, now 
further, but his figure always bent as though he were intent 
upon something in his hands. The boy moved, too, but 
with a more gentle, less vigorous, motion that suggested 
floating. He followed the larger figure, keeping close, his 
face raised from time to time as though his companion 
spoke to him. The expression that he wore was quiet, 



300 STRANGE STORIES 

peaceful, happy and intent. He was absorbed in what he 
was doing at the moment. Then, suddenly, Mr. Thorley 
straightened himself up. He turned. Miss Speke saw his 
face for the first time. He looked into her eyes. The face 
blazed with light. The gaze was straight, and full, and 
clear. It betrayed recognition. Mr. Thorley smiled 
at her. 

In a very few seconds she was aware of all this, of its 
main outlines, at any rate. She saw the moving, living 
figures in the midst of this stupendous and amazing space. 
The overwhelming surprise it caused her prevented, 
apparently, the lesser emotion of personal alarm ; fear she 
certainly did not feel at first. It was when Mr. Thorley 
looked at her with his brilliant eyes and blazing smile that 
her heart gave its violent jump, missed a beat or two, then 
began hammering against her ribs like released machinery 
that has gone beyond control. She was aware of the 
happy glory in the face, a face that was thin to emaciation, 
almost transparent, yet wearing an expression that was 
no longer earthly. Then, as he smiled, he came towards 
her ; he beckoned ; he stretched both hands out, while the 
boy looked up and watched. 

Mr. Thorley's advance, however, had two distracting 
peculiarities — that as he drew nearer he moved not in a 
straight line, but in a curve. As a skater performing 
" edges," though on both feet instead of on one, he swept 
gracefully and with incredible speed in her direction. The 
other peculiarity was that'with each step nearer his figure 
grew smaller. It lessened in height. He seemed, indeed, 
to be moving in two directions at once. He became 
diminutive. 

The sight ought by rights to have paralysed her, yet it 
produced again, instead of terror, an effect of exhilaration 
she could not possibly account for. There came once again 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 301 

that fine elation to her mind. Not only did all desire to 
resist die away almost before it was born, but more, she felt 
its opposite — an overpowering wish to join him. The tiny 
hands were still stretched out to greet her, to draw her in, 
to welcome her ; the smile upon the diminutive face, as 
it came nearer and nearer, was enchanting. She heard his 
voice then : 

" Come, come to us ! Here reality is nearer, and there 
is liberty . . . ! " 

The voice was very close and loud as in life, but it was 
not in front. It was behind her. Against her very ear 
it sounded in the air behind her back. She moved one 
foot forward ; she raised her arms. She felt herself being 
sucked in — into that glorious space. There was an 
indescribable change in her whole being. 

The cumulative effect of so many amazing happenings, 
all of them contrary to nature, should have been destructive 
to her reason. Their combined shock should have dis- 
located her system somewhere and have laid her low. But 
with every individual, it seems, the breaking-point is 
different. Her system, indeed, was dislocated, and a 
moment later and she was certainly laid low, yet it was not 
the effect of the figure, the voice, the gliding approach of 
Mr. Thorley that produced this. It was the flaw 'of little 
human egoism that brought her down. For it was in this 
instant that she first realised the absence of her own 
reflection in the mirror. The fact, though noticed before, 
had not entered her consciousness as such. It now 
definitely did so. The arms she lifted in greeting had no 
reflected counterpart. Her figure, she realised with a shock 
of terror, was not there. She dropped, then, like a stricken 
animal, one outstretched hand clutching the frame cf the 
mirror as she did so. 

" Gracious God ! " she heard herself scream as she 



302 STRANGE STORIES 

collapsed. She heard, too, the crash of the falling 
mirror which she overturned and brought down with 
her. 

Whether the noise brought Colonel Lyle round, or 
whether it was the combined weight of Miss Speke and the 
handsome piece upon his legs that roused him, is of uo 
consequence. He stirred, opened his eyes, disentangled 
himself and proceeded, not without astonishment, to render 
first-aid to the unconscious lady. 

The explanations that followed are, equally, of little 
consequence. His own attack, he considered, was chiefly 
due to fatigue, to violent indigestion, and to the after- 
effects of his protracted bankruptcy proceedings. Thus, 
at any rate, he assured Miss Speke. He added, however, 
that he had received rather a shock from the handsome 
piece, for, surprised at finding it turned to the wall, he 
had replaced it and looked into it, but had not seen himself 
reflected. This had amazed him a good deal, yet what 
amazed him still more was that he had seen something 
moving in the depths of the glass. " I saw a face," he 
said, " and it was a face I knew. It was Gerald PikestafEe. 
Behind him was another figure, the figure of a man, whose 
face I could not see." A mist rose before his eyes, his 
head swam a bit, and he evidently swayed for some un- 
accountable reason. It was a blow received in falling that 
stunned him momentarily. 

He stood over her, while he fanned her face ; her swoon 
was of brief duration ; she recovered quickly ; she listened 
to his story with a quiet mind. The after-effect of too 
great wonder leaves no room for pettier emotions, and 
traces of the exhilaration she had experienced were still 
about her heart and soul. 

" Is it smashed ? " was the first thing she asked, to 
which Colonel Lyle made no answer at first, merely pointing 



THE PIKESTAFFE CASE 303 

to the carpet where the frame of the long mirror lay in 
broken fragments. 

" There was no glass, you see," he said presently. He, 
too, was quiet, his manner very earnest ; his voice, though 
subdued as by a hint of awe, betrayed the glow of some 
intense inner excitement that lit fire in his eyes as well. 
" He had cut it out long ago, of course. He used the 
empty framework merely." 

" Eh ? " said Miss Speke, looking down incredulously, 
but finding no sign of splinters on the floor. 

Her companion smiled. " We shall find it about some- 
where if we look," he said calmly, which, indeed, proved 
later true — lying flat beneath the carpet under the bed. 
" His measurements and calculations led — probably by 
chance — towards the mirror " — he seemed speaking to 
himself more than to his bewildered listener — " perhaps by 
chance, perhaps by knowledge," he continued, " up to the 
mirror — and then through it." He looked down at Miss 
Speke and laughed a little. " So, like Alice, he went 
through it, too, taking his books and instruments, the boy 
as well, all with him. The boy, that is, bad the knowledge, 
too." 

" I only know one thing," said Miss Speke, unable to 
follow him or find meaning in his words, " I shall never let 
these rooms again. I shall lock them up." 

Her companion collected the broken pieces and made 
a little heap of them. 

" And I shall pray for him," added Miss Speke, as he 
led her presently downstairs to her own quarters. " I 
shall never cease to pray for him as long as I live." 

" He hardly needs that," murmured Colonel Lyle, but 
to himself. " The first terror has long since left him. He's 
found the new direction — and moved along it." 



ACCESSORY BEFORE THE FACT 

AT the moorland cross-roads Martin stood examining 
the sign-post for severalminutesin some bewilderment. 
The names on the four arms were not what he expected, 
distances were not given, and his map, he concluded with 
impatience, must be hopelessly out of date. Spreading it 
against the post, he stooped to study it more closely. The 
wind blew the corners flapping against his face. The small 
print was almost indecipherable in the fading light. It 
appeared, however— as well as he could make out — that 
two miles back he must have taken the wrong turning. 

He remembered that turning. The path had looked 
inviting ; he had hesitated a moment, then followed it, 
caught by the usual lure of walkers that it " might prove 
a short cut." The short-cut snare is old as human nature. 
For some minutes he studied the sign-post and the map 
alternately. Dusk was falling, and his knapsack had grown 
heavy. He could not make the two guides tally, however, 
and a feeling of uncertainty crept over his mind. He felt 
oddly baffled, frustrated. His thought grew thick. De- 
cision was most difficult. " I'm muddled," he thought ; 
" I must be tired," as at length he chose the most likely 
arm.. " Sooner or later it will bring me to an inn, though 
not the one I intended." He accepted his walker's luck, 
and started briskly. The arm read, " Over Litacy Hill " 
in small, fine letters that danced and shifted every time 
he looked at them ; but the name was not discoverable 
on the map. It was, however, inviting like the short cut. 
A similar impulse again directed his choice. Only this 
time it seemed more insistent, almost urgent. 

304 



ACCESSORY BEFORE THE FACT 305 

And he became aware, then, of the exceeding loneliness 
of the country about him. The road for a hundred yards 
went straight, then curved like a white river running into 
space ; the deep blue-green of heather lined the banks, 
spreading upwards through the twilight ; and occasional 
small pines stood solitary here and there, all unexplained. 
The curious adjective, having made its appearance, haunted 
him. So many things that afternoon were similarly — 
unexplained : the short cut, the darkened map, the names 
on the sign-post, his own erratic impulses, and the growing 
strange confusion that crept upon his spirit. The entire 
countryside needed explanation, though perhaps " inter- 
pretation " was the truer word. Those little lonely trees 
had made him see it. Why had he lost his way so easily ? 
Why did he suffer vague impressions to influence his 
direction ? Why was he here — exactly here ? And why 
did he go now " over Litacy Hill " ? 

Then, by a green field that shone like a thought of 
daylight amid the darkness of the moor, he saw a figure 
lying in the grass. It was a blot upon the landscape, a 
mere huddled patch of dirty rags, yet with a certain horrid 
picturesqueness too ; and his mind — though his German 
was of the schoolroom order — at once picked out the 
German equivalents as against the English. Lump and 
Lumpen flashed across his brain most oddly. They seemed 
in that moment right, and so expressive, almost like 
onomatopoeic words, if that were possible of sight. Neither 
" rags " nor " rascal " would have fitted what he saw. 
The adequate description was in German. 

Here was a clue tossed up by the part of him that did 
not reason. But it seems he missed it. And the next 
minute the tramp rose to a sitting posture and asked the 
time of evening. In German he asked it. And Martin, 
answering without a second's hesitation, gave it, also in 



306 STRANGE STORIES 

German, " hatb sieben "—half-past six. The instinctive 
guess was accurate. A glance at his watch when he looked 
a moment later proved it. He heard the man say, with 
the covert insolence of tramps, " T'ank you; much 
opliged." For Martin had not shown his watch— another 
intuition subconsciously obeyed. 

He quickened his pace along that lonely road, a curious 
jumble of thoughts and feelings surging through him. 
He had somehow known the question would come, and 
come in German. Yet it flustered and dismayed him. 
Another thing had also flustered and dismayed him. He 
had expected it in the same queer fashion : it was right. 
For when the ragged brown thing rose to ask the question, 
a part of it remained lying on the grass— another brown, 
dirty thing. There were two tramps. And he saw both 
faces clearly. Behind the untidy beards, and below the 
old slouch hats, he caught the look of unpleasant, clever 
faces that watched him closely while he passed. The eyes 
followed him. For a second he looked straight into those 
eyes, so that he could not fail to know them. And he 
understood, quite horridly, that both faces were too sleek, 
refined, and cunning for those of ordinary tramps. The 
men were not really tramps at all. They were disguised. 

" How covertly they watched me ! " was his thought, 
as he hurried along the darkening road, aware in dead 
earnestness now of the loneliness and desolation of the 
moorland all about him. 

Uneasy and distressed, he increased his pace. Midway 
in thinking what an unnecessarily clanking noise his nailed 
boots made upon the hard white road, there came upon 
him with a rush together the company of these things that 
haunted him as " unexplained." They brought a single 
definite message : That all this business was not really 
meant for him at all, and hence his confusion and bewilder- 



ACCESSORY BEFORE THE FACT 307 

ment ; that he had intruded into someone else's scenery, 
and was trespassing upon another's map of life. By some 
wrong inner turning he had interpolated his person into 
a group of foreign forces which operated in the little world 
of someone else. Unwittingly, somewhere, he had crossed 
the threshold, and now was fairly in — a trespasser, an 
eavesdropper, a Peeping Tom. He was listening, peeping ; 
overhearing things he had no right to know, because they 
were intended for another. Like a ship at sea he was 
intercepting wireless messages he could not properly 
interpret, because his Receiver was not accurately tuned 
to their reception. And more — these messages were 
warnings ! 

Then fear dropped upon him like the night. He was 
caught in a net of delicate, deep forces he could not manage, 
knowing neither their origin nor purpose. He had walked 
into some huge psychic trap elaborately planned and 
baited, yet calculated for another than himself. Something 
had lured him in, something in the landscape, the time of 
day, his mood. Owing to some undiscovered weakness in 
himself he had been easily caught. His fear slipped easily 
into terror. 

What happened next happened with such speed and 
concentration that it all seemed crammed into a moment. 
At once and in a heap it happened. It was quite inevitable. 
Down the white road to meet him a man came swaying 
from side to side in drunkenness quite obviously feigned — 
a tramp ; and while Martin made room for him to pass, 
the lurch changed in a second to attack, and the fellow 
was upon him. The blow was sudden and terrific, yet 
even while it fell Martin was aware that behind him rushed 
a second man, who caught his legs from under him and 
bore him with a thud and crash to the ground. Blows 
rained then ; he saw a gleam of something shining ; a 



308 STRANGE STORIES 

sudden deadly nausea plunged him into utter weakness 
where resistance was impossible. Something of fire entered 
his throat, and from his mouth poured a thick sweet thing, 
that choked him. The world sank far away into darkness 
, . . Yet through all the horror and confusion ran the trail 
of two clear thoughts : he realised that the first tramp had 
sneaked at a fast double through the heather and so come 
down to meet him ; and that something heavy was torn 
from fastenings that clipped it tight and close beneath his 
clothes against his body. . . . 

Abruptly then the darkness lifted, passed utterly away. 
He found himself peering into the map against the sign- 
post. The wind was flapping the corners against his cheek, 
and he was poring over names that now he saw quite clear. 
Upon the arms of the sign-post above were those he had 
expected to find, and the map recorded them quite faith- 
fully. All was accurate again and as it should be. He 
read the name of the village he had meant to make — it was 
plainly visible in the dusk, two miles the distance given. 
Bewildered, shaken, unable to think of anything, he stuffed 
the map into his pocket unfolded, and hurried forward like 
a man who has just wakened from an awful dream that had 
compressed into a single second all the detailed misery of 
some prolonged, oppressive nightmare. 

He broke into a steady trot that soon became a run ; 
the perspiration poured from him ; his legs felt weak, and 
his breath was difficult to manage. He was only conscious 
of the overpowering desire to get away as fast as possible 
from the sign-post at the cross-roads where the dreadful 
vision had flashed upon him. For Martin, accountant on 
a holiday, had never dreamed of any world of psychic 
possibilities. The entire thing was torture. It was worse 
than a " cooked " balance of the books that some con- 
spiracy of clerks and directors proved at his innocent door. 



ACCESSORY BEFORE THE FACT 309 

He raced as though the countryside ran crying at his heels. 
And always still ran with him the incredible conviction 
that none of this was really meant for himself at all. He 
had overheard the secrets of another. He had taken the 
warning for another into himself, and so altered its direction. 
He had thereby prevented its right delivery. It all shocked 
him beyond words. It dislocated the machinery of his 
just and accurate soul. The warning was intend- d for 
another, who could not — would not — now receive it. 

The physical exertion, however, brought at length a 
more comfortable reaction and some measure of composure. 
With the lights in sight, he slowed down and entered the 
village at a reasonable pace. The inn was reached, a bed- 
room inspected and engaged, and supper ordered with the 
solid comfort of a large Bass to satisfy an unholy thirst 
and complete the restoration of balance. The unusual 
sensations largely passed away, and the odd feeling that 
anything in his simple, wholesome world required explana- 
tion was no longer present. Still with a vague uneasiness 
about him, though actual fear quite gone, he went into 
the bar to smoke an after-supper pipe and chat with the 
natives, as his pleasure was upon a holiday, and so saw 
two men leaning upon the counter at the far end with their 
backs towards him. He saw their faces instantly in the 
glass, and the pipe nearly slipped from between his teeth. 
Clean-shaven, sleek, clever faces — and he caught a word 
or two as they talked over their drinks — German words. 
Well dressed they were, both men, with nothing about 
them callirig for particular attention ; they might have 
been two tourists holiday-making like himself in tweeds 
and walking-boots. And they presently paid for their 
drinks and went out. He never saw them face to face 
at all ; but the sweat broke out afresh all over him, a 
feverish rush of heat and ice together ran about his body ; 



310 STRANGE STORIES 

beyond question he recognised the two tramps, this time 
not disguised — not yet disguised. 

He remained in his corner without moving, puffing 
violently at an extinguished pipe, gripped helplessly by 
the return of that first vile terror. It came again to him 
with an absolute clarity of certainty that it was not with 
himself they had to do, these men, and, further, that he 
had no right in the world to interfere. He had no locus 
standi at all ; it would be immoral . . . even if the oppor- 
tunity came. And the opportunity, he felt, would come. 
He had been an eavesdropper, and had come upon private 
information of a secret kind that he had no right to make 
use of, even that good might come — even to save life. He 
sat on in his corner, terrified and silent, waiting for the 
thing that should happen next. 

But night came without explanation. Nothing hap- 
pened. He slept soundly. There was no other guest at 
the inn but an elderly man, apparently a tourist like 
himself. He wore gold-rimmed glasses, and in the morning 
Martin overheard him asking the landlord what direction 
he should take for Litacy Hill. His teeth began then to 
chatter and a weakness came into his knees. " You turn 
to the left at the cross-roads," Martin broke in before the 
landlord could reply ; " you'll see the sign-post about 
two miles from here, and after that it's a matter of four 
miles more." How in the world did he know, flashed 
horribly through him. " I'm going that way myself," he 
was saying next ; " I'll go with you for a bit — if you don't 
mind ! " The words came out impulsively and ill-con- 
sidered ; of their own accord they came. For his own 
direction was exactly opposite. He did not want the man 
to go alone. The stranger, however, easily evaded his offer 
of companionship. He thanked him with the remark that 
he was starting later in the day. . . . They were standing, 



ACCESSORY BEFORE THE FACT 311 

all three, beside the horse-trough in front of the inn, when 
at that very moment a tramp, slouching along the road, 
looked up and asked the time of day. And it was the man 
with the gold-rimmed glasses who told him. 

" T'ank you ; much opliged," the tramp replied, passing 
on with his slow, slouching gait, while the landlord, a 
talkative fellow, proceeded to remark upon the number 
of Germans that lived in England and were ready to swell 
the Teutonic invasion which he, for his part, deemed 
imminent. 

But Martin heard it not. Before he had gone a mile 
upon his way he went into the woods to fight his conscience 
all alone. His feebleness, his cowardice, were surely 
criminal. Real anguish tortured him. A dozen times he 
decided to go back upon his steps, and a dozen times the 
singular authority that whispered he had no right to 
interfere prevented him. How could he act upon know- 
ledge gained by eavesdropping ? How interfere in the 
private business of another's hidden life merely because he 
had overheard, as at the telephone, its secret dangers ? 
Some inner confusion prevented straight thinking alto- 
gether. The stranger would merely think him mad. He 
had no " fact " to go upon. . . . He smothered a hundred 
impulses . . . and finally went on his way with a shaking, 
troubled heart. 

The last two days of his holiday were ruined by doubts 
and questions and alarms — all justified later when he read 
of the murder of a tourist upon Litacy Hill. The man 
wore gold-rimmed glasses, and carried in a belt about his 
person a large sum of money. His throat was cut. And 
the police were hard upon the trail of a mysterious pair of 
tramps, said to be — Germans. 



THE DEFERRED APPOINTMENT 

THE little " Photographic Studio " in the side-street 
beyond Shepherd's Bush had done no business all day, 
for the light had been uninviting to even the vainest sitter, 
and the murky sky that foreboded snow had hung over 
London without a break since dawn. Pedestrians went 
hurrying and shivering along the pavements, disappearing 
into the gloom of countless ugly little houses the moment 
they passed beyond the glare of the big electric standards 
that lit the thundering motor-buses in the main street. 
The first flakes of snow, indeed, were already falling slowly, 
as though they shrank from settling in the grime. The 
wind moaned and sang dismally, catching the ears and 
lifting the shabby coat-tails of Mr. Mortimer Jenkyn, 
" Photographic Artist," as he stood outside and put the 
shutters up with his own cold hands in despair of further 
trade. It was five minutes to six. 

With a lingering glance at the enlarged portrait of a 
fat man in masonic regalia who was the pride and glory 
of his window-front, he fixed the last hook of the shutter, 
and turned to go indoors. There was developing and 
framing to be done upstairs, not very remunerative work, 
but better, at any rate, than waiting in an empty studio 
for customers who did not come — wasting the heat of two 
oil-stoves into the bargain. And it was then, in the act 
of closing the street-door behind him, that he saw a man 
standing in the shadows of the narrow passage, staring 
fixedly into his face. 

Mr. Jenkyn admits that he jumped. The man was so 
very close, yet he had not seen him come in ; and in the 

312 



THE DEFERRED APPOINTMENT 313 

eyes was such a curiously sad and appealing expression. 
He had already sent his assistant home, and there was no 
other occupant of the little two-storey house. The man 
must have slipped past him from the dark street while his 
back was turned. Who in the world could he be, and 
what could he want ? Was he beggar, customer, or 
rogue ? 

" Good evening," Mr. Jenkyn said, washing his hands, 
but using only half the oily politeness of tone with which 
he favoured sitters. He was just going to add " sir," 
feeling it wiser to be on the safe side, when the stranger 
shifted his position so that the light fell directly upon his 
face, and Mr. Jenkyn was aware that he — recognised him. 
Unless he was greatly mistaken, it was the second-hand 
bookseller in the main street. 

" Ah, it's you, Mr. Wilson ! " he stammered, making 
half a question of it, as though not quite convinced. 
" Pardon me ; I did not quite catch your face — er — I was 
just shutting up." The other bowed his head in reply. 
" Won't you come in ? Do, please." 

Mr. Jenkyn led the way. He wondered what was the 
matter. The visitor was not among his customers ; indeed, 
he could hardly claim to know him, having only seen him 
occasionally when calling at the shop for slight purchases 
of paper and what not. The man, he now realised, looked 
fearfully ill and wasted, his face pale and haggard. It 
upset him rather, this sudden, abrupt call. He felt sorry, 
pained. He felt uneasy. 

Into the studio they passed, the visitor going first as 
though he knew the way, Mr. Jenkyn noticing through his 
flurry that he was in his " Sunday best." Evidently he 
had come with a definite purpose. It was odd. Still 
without speaking, he moved straight across the room and 
posed himself in front of the dingy background of painted 



3 H STRANGE STORIES 

trees, facing the camera. The studio was brightly lit. 
He seated himself in the faded arm-chair, crossed his legs, 
drew up the little round table with the artificial roses upon 
it in a tall, thin vase, and struck an attitude. He meant 
to be photographed. His eyes, staring straight into the 
lens, draped as it was with the black velvet curtain, seemed, 
however, to take no account of the Photographic Artist. 
But Mr. Jenkyn, standing still beside the door, felt a cold 
air playing over his face that was not merely the winter 
cold from the street. He felt his hair rise. A slight shiver 
ran down his back. In that pale, drawn face, and in those 
staring eyes across the room that gazed so fixedly into the 
draped camera, he read the signature of illness that no 
longer knows hope. It was Death that he saw. 

In a flash the impression came and went — less than a 
second. The whole business, indeed, had not occupied 
two minutes. Mr. Jenkyn pulled himself together with a 
strong effort, dismissed his foolish obsession, and came 
sharply to practical considerations. " Forgive me," he 
said, a trifle thickly, confusedly, " but I — er — did not quite 
realise. You desire to sit for your portrait, of course. 
I've had such a busy day, and — 'ardly looked for a customer 
so late." The clock, as he spoke, struck six. But he did 
not notice the sound. Through his mind ran another 
reflection : " A man shouldn't 'ave his picture taken when 
he's ill and next door to dying. Lord ! He'll want a lot 
of touching-up and finishin', too ! " 

He began discussing the size, price, and length — the 
usual rigmarole of his " profession," and the other, sitting 
there, still vouchsafed no comment or reply. He simply 
made the impression of a man in a great hurry, who wished 
to finish a disagreeable business without unnecessary talk. 
Many men, reflected the photographer, were the same ; 
being photographed was worse to them than going to the 



THE DEFERRED APPOINTMENT 315 

dentist. Mr. Jenkyn filled the pauses with his professional 
running talk and patter, while the sitter, fixed and motion- 
less, kept his first position and stared at the camera. The 
photographer rather prided himself upon his ability to 
make sitters look bright and pleasant ; but this man was 
hopeless. It was only afterwards Mr. Jenkyn recalled the 
singular fact that he never once touched him — that, in 
fact, something connected possibly with his frail appearance 
of deadly illness had prevented his going close to arrange 
the details of the hastily assumed pose. 

" It must be a flashlight, of course, Mr. Wilson," he said, 
fidgeting at length with the camera-stand, shifting it 
slightly nearer ; while the other moved his head gently 
yet impatiently in agreement. Mr. Jenkyn longed to 
suggest his coming another time when he looked better, 
to speak with sympathy of his illness ; to say something, 
in fact, that might establish a personal relation. But his 
tongue in this respect seemed utterly tied. It was just 
this personal relation which seemed impossible of approach 
— absolutely and peremptorily impossible. There seemed 
a barrier between the two. He could only chatter the 
usual professional commonplaces. To tell the truth, Mr. 
Jenkyn thinks he felt a little dazed the whole time — not 
quite his usual self. And, meanwhile, his uneasiness oddly 
increased. He hurried. He, too, wanted the matter done 
with and his visitor gone. 

At length everything was ready, only the flashlight 
waiting to be turned on, when, stooping, he covered his 
head with the velvet cloth and peered through the lens — 
at no one ! When he says " at no one," however, he 
qualifies it thus : " There was a quick flash of brilliant 
white light and a face in the middle of it — my gracious 
Heaven ! But such a face — , im, yet not 'im — like a sudden 
rushing glory of a face ! It shot off like lightning out of 



316 STRANGE STORIES 

the camera's field of vision. It left me blinded, I assure 
you, 'alf blinded, and that's a fac'. It was sheer dazzling ! " 

It seems Mr. Jenkyn remained entangled a moment in 
the cloth, eyes closed, breath coming in gasps, for when 
he got clear and straightened up again, staring once more 
at his customer over the top of the camera, he stared for 
the second time at — no one. And the cap that he held 
in his left hand he clapped feverishly over the uncovered 
lens. Mr. Jenkyn staggered . . . looked hurriedly round 
the empty studio, then ran, knocking a chair over as he 
went, into the passage. The hall was deserted, the front 
door closed. His visitor had disappeared " almost as 
though he hadn't never been there at all " — thus he 
described it to himself in a terrified whisper. And again 
he felt the hair rise on his scalp ; his skin crawled a little, 
and something put back the ice against his spine. 

After a moment he returned to the studio and somewhat 
feverishly examined it. There stood the chair against 
the dingy background of trees ; and there, close beside it, 
was the round table with the flower vase. Less than a 
minute ago Mr. Thomas Wilson, looking like death, had 
been sitting in that very chair. " It wasn't all a sort of 
dreamin', then," ran through his disordered and frightened 
mind. " I did see something . . . ! " He remembered 
vaguely stories he had read in the newspapers, stories of 
queer warnings that saved people from disasters, appari- 
tions, faces seen in dream, and so forth. " Maybe," he 
thought with confusion, " something's going to 'appen to 
me ! " Further than that he could not get for some little 
time, as he stood there staring about him, almost expecting 
that Mr. Wilson might reappear as strangely as he had 
disappeared. He went over the whole scene again and 
again, reconstructing it in minutest detail. And only then, 
for the first time, did he plainly realise two things which 



THE DEFERRED APPOINTMENT 317 

somehow or other he had not thought strange before, but 
now thought very strange. For his visitor, he remembered, 
had not uttered a single word, nor had he, Mr. Jenkyn,. 
once touched his person. . . . And, thereupon, without 
more ado, he put on his hat and coat and went round to 
the little shop in the main street to buy some ink and 
stationery which he did not in the least require. 

The shop seemed all as usual, though Mr. Wilson himself 
was not visible behind the littered desk. A tall gentleman 
was talking in low tones to the partner. Mr. Jenkyn 
bowed as he went in, then stood examining a case of cheap 
stylographic pens, waiting for the others to finish. It was 
impossible to avoid overhearing. Besides, the little shop 
had distinguished customers sometimes, he had heard, 
and this evidently was one of them. He only understood 
part of the conversation, but he remembers all of it. 
" Singular, yes, these last words of dying men," the tall 
man was saying, " very singular. You remember New- 
man's : ' More light,' wasn't it ? " The bookseller nodded. 
" Fine," he said, " fine, that ! " There was a pause. Mr, 
Jenkyn stooped lower over the pens. " This, too, was 
fine in its way," the gentleman added, straightening up 
to go ; " the old promise, you see, unfulfilled but not 
forgotten. Cropped up suddenly out of the delirium. 
Curious, very curious ! A good, conscientious man to the 
last. In all the twenty years I've known him he never 
broke his word. . . ." 

A motor-bus drowned a sentence, and then was heard 
in the bookseller's voice, as he moved towards the door 1 
"... You see, he was half-way down the stairs before they 
found him, always repeating the same thing, ' I promised 
the wife, I promised the wife.' And it was a job, I'm told,, 
getting him back again ... he struggled so. That's what 
finished him so quick, I suppose. Fifteen minutes later 



318 STRANGE STORIES 

he was gone, and his last words were always the same, 
' I promised the wife ' . . ." 

The tall man was gone, and Mr. Jenkyn forgot about 
his purchases. " When did it 'appen ? " he heard himself 
asking in a voice he hardly recognised as his own. And the 
reply roared and thundered in his ears as he went down 
the street a minute later to his house : " Close on six 
o'clock — a few minutes before the hour. Been ill for 
weeks, yes. Caught him out of bed with high fever on his 
way to your place, Mr. Jenkyn, calling at the top of his 
voice that he'd forgotten to see you about his picture being 
taken. Yes, very sad, very sad indeed." 

But Mr. Jenkyn did not return to his studio. He left 
the light burning there all night. He went to the little 
room where he slept out, and next day gave the plate to 
be developed by his assistant. " Defective plate, sir," was 
the report in due course ; " shows nothing but a flash of 
light — uncommonly brilliant." " Make a print of it all 
the same," was the reply. Six months later, when he 
examined the plate and print, Mr. Jenkyn found that the 
singular streaks of light had disappeared from both. The 
uncommon brilliance had faded out completely as though 
it had never been there. 



ANCIENT LIGHTS 

FROM Southwater, where he left the train, the road 
led due west. That he knew ; for the rest he trusted 
to luck, being one of those born walkers who dislike asking 
the way. He had that instinct, and as a rule it served 
him well. " A mile or so due west along the sandy road 
till you come to a stile on the right ; then across the fields. 
You'll see the red house straight before you." He glanced 
at the post-card's instructions once again, and once again 
he tried to decipher the scratched-out sentence — without 
success. It had been so elaborately inked over that no- 
word was legible. Inked-out sentences in a letter were 
always enticing. He wondered what it was that .had to- 
be so very carefully obliterated. 

The afternoon was boisterous, with a tearing, shouting 
wind that blew from the sea, across the Sussex weald. 
Massive clouds with rounded, piled-up edges, cannoned 
across gaping spaces of blue sky. Far away the line of 
Downs swept the horizon, like an arriving wave. Chancton- 
bury Ring rode their crest — a scudding ship, hull down 
before the wind. He took his hat off and walked rapidly,, 
breathing great draughts of air with delight and exhilara- 
tion. The road was deserted ; no horsemen, bicycles, or 
motors ; not even a tradesman's cart ; no single walker. 
But anyhow he would never have asked the way. Keeping 
a sharp eye for the stile, he pounded along, while the wind 
tossed the cloak against his face, and made waves across, 
the blue puddles in the yellow road. The trees showed 
their under leaves of white. The bracken and the high- 
new grass bent all one way. Great life was in the day, 

3«9 



320 STRANGE STORIES 

high spirits and dancing everywhere. And for a Croydon 
surveyor's clerk just out of an office this was like a holiday 
at the sea. 

It was a day for high adventure, and his heart rose up 
to meet the mood of Nature. His umbrella with the silver 
ring ought to have been a sword, and his brown shoes 
should have been top-boots with spurs upon the heels. 
Where hid the enchanted Castle and the princess with the 
hair of sunny gold ? His horse . . . 

The stile came suddenly into view and nipped adventure 
in the bud. Everyday clothes took him prisoner again. 
He was a surveyor's clerk, middle-aged, earning three 
pounds a week, coming from Croydon to see about a client's 
proposed alterations in a wood — something to ensure a 
better view from the dining-room window. Across the 
fields, perhaps a mile away, he saw the red house gleaming 
in the sunshine ; and resting on the stile a moment to get 
his breath he noticed a copse of oak and hornbeam on the 
right. " Aha," he told himself, " so that must be the 
wood he wants to cut down to improve the view ? I'll 
'ave a look at it." There were boards up, of course, but 
there was an inviting little path as well. " I'm not a 
trespasser," he said ; " it's part of my business, this is." 
He scrambled awkwardly over the gate and entered the 
copse. A little round would bring him to the field again. 
But the moment he passed among the trees the wind 
ceased shouting and a stillness dropped upon the world. 
So dense was the growth that the sunshine only came 
through in isolated patches . The air was close . He mopped 
his forehead and put his green felt hat on, but a low branch 
knocked it off again at once, and as he stooped an elastic 
twig swung back and stung his face. There were flowers 
along both edges of the little path ; glades opened on 
either side ; ferns curved about in damper corners, and the 



ANCIENT LIGHTS 321 

smell of earth and foliage was rich and sweet. It was 
cooler here. What an enchanting little wood, he thought, 
turning down a small green glade where the sunshine 
flickered like silver wings. How it danced and fluttered 
and moved about ! He put a dark blue flower in his 
buttonhole. Again his hat, caught by an oak branch as 
he rose, was knocked from his head, falling across his eyes. 
And this time he did not put it on again. Swinging his 
umbrella, he walked on with uncovered head, whistling 
rather loudly as he went. But the thickness of the trees 
hardly encouraged whistling, and something of his gaiety 
and high spirits seemed to leave him. He suddenly found 
himself treading circumspectly and with caution. The 
stillness in the wood was so peculiar. 

There was a rustle among the ferns and leaves and 
something shot across the path ten yards ahead, stopped 
abruptly an instant with head cocked sideways to stare, 
then dived again beneath the underbrush with the speed 
of a shadow. He started like a frightened child, laughing 
the next second that a mere pheasant could have made 
him jump. In the distance he heard wheels upon the 
road, and wondered why the sound was pleasant. " Good 
old butcher's cart," he said to himself — then realised that 
he was going in the wrong direction and had somehow got 
turned round. For the road should be behind him, not 
in front. 

And he hurriedly took another narrow glade that lost 
itself in greenness to the right. " That's my direction, of 
course," he said ; " the trees has mixed me up a bit, it 
seems " — then found himself abruptly by the gate he had 
first climbed over. He had merely made a circle. Surprise 
became almost discomfiture then. And a man, dressed 
like a gamekeeper in browny green, leaned against the gate, 
hitting his legs with a switch. " I'm making for Mr. 

1* 



322 STRANGE STORIES 

Lumley's farm," explained the walker. " This is his 

wood, I believe " then stopped dead, because it was 

no man at all, but merely an effect of light and shade and 
foliage. He stepped back to reconstruct the singular 
illusion, but the wind shook the branches roughly here on 
the edge of the wood and the foliage refused to reconstruct 
the figure. The leaves all rustled strangely. And just 
then the sun went behind a cloud, making the whole wood 
look otherwise. Yet how the mind could be thus doubly 
deceived was indeed remarkable, for it almost seemed to 
him the man had answered, spoken — or was this the 
shuffling noise the branches made ? — and had pointed with 
his switch to the notice-board upon the nearest tree. The 
words rang on in his head, but of course he had imagined 
them : " No, it's not his wood. It's ours." And some 
village wit, moreover, had changed the lettering on the 
weather-beaten board, for it read quite plainly, " Tres- 
passers will be persecuted." 

And while the astonished clerk read the words and 
chuckled, he said to himself, thinking what a tale he'd have 
to tell his wife and children later — " The blooming wood 
has tried to chuck me out. But I'll go in again. Why, 
it's only a matter of a square acre at most. I'm bound 
to reach the fields on the other side if I keep straight on." 
He remembered his position in the office. He had a certain 
dignity to maintain. 

The cloud passed from below the sun, and light splashed 
suddenly in all manner of unlikely places. The man went 
straight on. He felt a touch of puzzling confusion some- 
where ; this way the copse had of shifting from sunshine 
into shadow doubtless troubled sight a little. To his relief, 
at last, a new glade opened through the trees and disclosed 
the fields with a glimpse of the red house in the distance 
at the far end. But a little wicket gate that stood across 



ANCIENT LIGHTS 323 

the path had first to be climbed, and as he scrambled heavily 
over — for it would not open — he got the astonishing feeling 
that it slid off sideways beneath his weight, and towards 
the wood. Like the moving staircases at Harrod's and 
Earl's Court, it began to glide off with him. It was quite 
horrible. He made a violent effort to get down before it 
carried him into the trees, but his feet became entangled 
with the bars and umbrella, so that he fell heavily upon the 
farther side, arms spread across' the grass and nettles, boots 
clutched between the first and second bars. He lay there 
a moment like a man crucified upside down, and while he 
struggled to get disentangled — feet, bars, and umbrella 
formed a regular net — he saw the little man in browny 
green go past him with extreme rapidity through the wood. 
The man was laughing. He passed across the glade some 
fifty yards away, and he was not alone this time. A 
companion like himself went with him. The clerk, now 
upon his feet again, watched them disappear into the 
gloom of green beyond. " They're tramps, not game- 
keepers," he said to himself, half mortified, half angry. 
But his heart was thumping dreadfully, and he dared not 
utter all his thought. 

He examined the wicket gate, convinced it was a trick 
gate somehow — then went hurriedly on again, disturbed 
beyond belief to see that the glade no longer opened into 
fields, but curved away to the right. What in the world 
had happened to him ? His sight was so utterly at fault. 
Again the sun flamed out abruptly and lit the floor of the 
wood with pools of silver, and at the same moment a 
violent gust of wind passed shouting overhead. Drops fell 
clattering everywhere upon the leaves, making a sharp 
pattering as of many footsteps. The whole copse shuddered 
and went moving. 

" Rain, by George," thought the clerk, and feeling for 



324 STRANGE STORIES 

his umbrella, discovered he had lost it. He turned back 
to the gate and found it lying on the farther side. To his 
amazement he saw the fields at the far end of the glade, 
the red house, too, ashine in the sunset. He laughed then, 
for, of course, in his struggle with the gate, he had somehow 
got turned round — had fallen back instead of forwards. 
Climbing over, this time quite easily, he retraced his steps. 
The silver band, he saw, had been torn from the umbrella. 
No doubt his foot, a nail, "or something had caught in it 
and ripped it off. The clerk began to run ; he felt 
extraordinarily dismayed. 

But, while he ran, the entire wood ran with him, round 
him, to and fro, trees shifting like living things, leaves 
folding and unfolding, trunks darting, backwards and 
forwards, and branches disclosing enormous empty spaces, 
then closing up again before he could look into them. 
There were footsteps everywhere, and laughing, crying 
voices, and crowds of figures gathering just behind his back 
till the glade, he knew, was thick with moving life. The 
wind in his ears, of course, produced the voices and the 
laughter, while sun and clouds, plunging the copse alter- 
nately in shadow and bright dazzling light, created the 
figures. But he did not like it, and he went as fast as ever 
his sturdy legs could take him. He was frightened now. 
This was no story for his wife and children. He ran like the 
wind. But his feet made no sound upon the soft mossy 
turf. 

Then, to his horror, he saw that the glade grew narrow, 
nettles and weeds stood thick across it, it dwindled down 
into a tiny path, and twenty yards ahead it stopped finally 
and melted off among the trees. What the trick gate had 
failed to achieve, this twisting glade accomplished easily — 
carried him in bodily among the dense and crowding trees. 
There was only one thing to do — turn sharply and dash 



ANCIENT LIGHTS 325 

back again, ran headlong into the life that followed at his 
back, followed so closely too that now it almost touched 
him, pushing him in. And with reckless courage this was 
what he did. It seemed a fearful thing to do. He turned 
with a sort of violent spring, head down and shoulders 
forward, hands stretched before his face. He made the 
plunge ; like a hunted creature he charged full tilt the 
other way, meeting the wind now in his face. 

Good Lord ! The glade behind him had closed up as 
well ; there was no longer any path at all. Turning round 
and round, like an animal at bay, he searched for an 
opening, a way of escape, searched frantically, breathlessly, 
terrified now in his bones. But foliage surrounded him, 
branches blocked the way ; the trees stood close and still, 
unshaken by a breath of wind ; and the sun dipped that 
moment behind a great black cloud. The entire wood 
turned dark and silent. It watched him. 

Perhaps it was this final touch of sudden blackness that 
made him act so foolishly, as though he had really lost his 
head. At any rate, without pausing to think, he dashed 
headlong in among the trees again. There was a sensation 
of being stiflingly surrounded and entangled, and that he 
must break out at all costs — out and away into the open of 
the blessed fields and air. He did this ill-considered thing, 
and apparently charged straight into an oak that deliber- 
ately moved into his path to stop him. He saw it shift 
across a good full yard, and being a measuring man, 
accustomed to theodolite and chain, he ought to know. He 
fell, saw stars, and felt a thousand tiny fingers tugging and 
pulling at his hands and neck and ankles. The stinging 
nettles, no doubt, were responsible for this. He thought 
of it later. At the moment it felt diabolically calculated. 

But another remarkable illusion was not so easily ex- 
plained. For all in a moment, it seemed, the entire wood 



326 STRANGE STORIES 

went sliding past him with a thick deep rustling of leaves 
and laughter, myriad footsteps, and tiny little active 
energetic shapes ; two men in browny green gave him a 
mighty hoist— and he opened his eyes to find himself lying 
in the meadow beside the stile where first his incredible 
adventure had begun. The wood stood in its usual place 
and stared down upon him in the sunlight. There was the 
red house in the distance as before. Above him grinned 
the weather-beaten notice-board : " Trespassers will be 
prosecuted." 

Dishevelled in mind and body, and a good deal shaken in 
his official soul, the clerk walked slowly across the fields 
But on the way he glanced once more at the post-card of 
instructions, and saw with dull amazement that the inked- 
out sentence was quite legible after all beneath the scratches 
made across it : " There is a short cut through the wood— 
the wood I want cut down— if you care to take it." Only 
" care " was so badly written, it looked more like another 
word ; the " c " was uncommonly like " d." 

" That's the copse that spoils my view of the Downs, you 
see" his client explained to him later, pointing across the 
nelds, and referring to the ordnance map beside him. " I 
want it cut down and a path made so and so." His finger 
indicated direction on the map. « The Fairy Wood— it's 
still called, and it's far older than this house. Come now 
if you're ready, Mr. Thomas, we might go out and have a 
look at it . . ." 



YOU MAY TELEPHONE FROM 
HERE 

SHE sent the servant to bed at half-past ten, and sat up 
in the flat alone. " I'll let my cousin in," she explained; 
" she may be rather late." She read, knitted, began a 
letter, poked the fire, and examined her husband's photo- 
graphs on the mantelpiece ; but most of the time she 
looked about her nervously sometimes going to the door to 
listen, sometimes lifting the corner of the blind to look out 
upon the lights of North Kensington struggling with the 
blackness. The fog was thicker than ever. A rumble of 
traffic feeling its way floated up to her from below. 

But at last the door-bell rang sharply, and she ran to let 
in the cousin who had promised to spend the two nights with 
her during her husband's absence in Paris. They kissed. 
Both began talking at once. 

" I thought you were never coming, Sybil ! " 

" The play was out late — and the fog's bad. I sent on 
my box this afternoon on purpose." 

" It came safely ; and your room's quite ready. I do 
hope you'll manage all right without a maid. Oh, I'm so 
glad you've come, though ! " 

" Foolish little country mouse ! " 

" Oh, it's not that so much, though I admit that London 
still terrifies me at night rather ; but you know this is the 
first time he's been away — and I suppose " 

" I know, dear ; I understand perfectly." The cousin 
was brisk and cheerful. "You feel lonely, of course." 
They kissed again. " Just unhook me, will you ? " she 

3*7 



328 STRANGE STORIES 

added, " and I'll get into my dressing-gown, and then we'll 
be cosy over the fire." 

" I saw him off at Victoria at 8.45," said the little wife 
when the operation was over. 
" Newhaven and Dieppe ? " 

" Yes. He gets to Paris at seven in the morning. He 
promised to telephone the first thing." 
" You expensive little monkey ! " 
" Why ? " 

" It's ten shillings for three minutes, or something like 
that, and you have to go to the G.P.O. or tbe Mansion 
House or some such place, I believe." 

" But I thought it was the usual long-distance thing 
direct here to the flat. He never told me all that." 
" Probably you didn't give him the chance ! " 
They laughed, and went on chatting, with feet on the 
fender and skirts tucked up. The cousin lit her second 
cigarette. It was after midnight. 

" I'm afraid I'm not the least bit sleepy," said the wife 
apologetically. 

" Nor am I, dear. For once the play excited me." She 
began to describe it vigorously. Half-way through the 
recital the telephone sounded in the hall. It tinkled faintly, 
but gave no proper ring. 

The other started. "There it is again! It's always 
doing that — ever since Harry put it in a week ago. I don't 
quite like it." She spoke in a hushed voice. 

The cousin looked at her curiously. " Oh, you mustn't 
mind that," she laughed with a reassuring manner. " It's a 
little way they have when the line gets out of order. You're 
not used to playing the telephone game yet. You should 
call up the Exchange and' complain. Always complain, 

you know, in this world if you want " 

" There it goes again," interrupted her friend nervously. 



YOU MAY TELEPHONE FROM HERE 329 

" Oh, I do wish it would stop. It's so like someone standing 
out there in the hall and trying to talk " 

The cousin j umped up. They went into the h all together, 
and the experienced one briskly rang up the Exchange and 
asked if there was anybody trying to " get through." 
With fine indignation she complained that no one in the 
flat could sleep for the noise. After a brief conversation 
she turned, receiver in hand, to her companion. 

" The operator says he's very sorry, but your line's a 
bit troublesome to-night for some reason. Got mixed, or 
something. He can't understand it. Advises you to 
leave the receiver unhooked till the morning. Then it can't 
possibly ring, you see ! " 

They left the receiver swinging, and went back to the fire. 

" I'm sorry I'm such a timid donkey," the wife said, 
laughing a little ; " but I'm not used to it yet. There was 
no telephone at the farm, you know." She turned with a 
sudden start, as though she heard the bell again. " And 
to-night," she added in a lower voice, though with an 
obvious effort at self-control, " for some reason or other I 
feel uncomfortable, rather — excited, queer, I think." 

" How ? Queer ? " 

" I don't know exactly ; almost as if there was someone 
else in the flat — someone besides ourselves and the servant, 
I mean." 

The cousin moved abruptly. She switched on the 
electric lights in the wall beside her. 

" Yes ; but it's only imagination, really" she said with 
decision. " It's natural enough. It's the fog and the 
strangeness of London after the loneliness of your farm-life, 
and your husband being away, and — and all that. Once 
you analyse these queer feelings they always go " 

" Hark ! " exclaimed the wife under her breath. " Wasn't 
that a step in the passage ? " She sat bolt upright, her face 



33o STRANGE STORIES 

pale, her eyes very bright. They listened a moment. The 
night was utterly still about them. 

" Rubbish ! " cried the cousin loudly. " It was my foot 
knocking the fender ; like this — look ! " She repeated the 
sound vigorously. 

" I do believe it was," the other said, only half convinced. 
" But it is queer. You know I feel exactly as though 
someone had come into the flat — quite recently, since you 
came, I mean — just before that tinkling began, in fact." 

" Come, come," laughed the cousin, " you'll give us both 
the jumps. At one o'clock in the morning it's easy to 
imagine anything. You'll be hearing elephants on the 
stairs next ! " She looked sharply about her. " Let's 
brew our chocolate and get to bed," she added. " We shall 
sleep like tops." 

" One o'clock already ! Then Harry's half-way across by 
now," said the wife, smiling at her friend's language. 
" But I'm so glad, oh, so glad, you're here," she added ; 
" and I think it's most awfully sweet of you to give up a 
comfy big house . . ." They kissed again and laughed. 
Soon afterwards, having scalded their throats with hot 
chocolate, they went to bed. 

" It simply can't ring now ! " remarked the cousin 
triumphantly as they passed the receiver dangling in 
mid-air. 

" That's a relief," her friend said. " I feel less nervous. 
Really, I'm too ashamed of myself for anything." 

" Fog's clearing, too," Sybil added, peering for a moment 
through the narrow window by the front door. 

An hour later the little flat was still as the grave. No 
sound of traffic was heard. Even the tinkling of the tele- 
phone seemed a whole twenty-four hours away, when 
suddenly — it began again : first with little soft tentative 
noises, very faint, troubled, hurried, buried almost out of 



YOU MAY TELEPHONE FROM HERE 331 

hearing inside the box ; then louder and louder, with sharp 
jerks — finally with a challenging and alarming peal. And 
the wife, who had kept her door open, without pretence of 
sleep, heard it from the very beginning. In a moment she 
found herself in the passage, and Sybil, wakened by her 
cry, was at her heels. They turned up the lights and stood 
facing one another. The hall smelt — as things only smell 
at night — cold, musty. ... 

" What's the matter ? You frightened me. I heard 
you scream ! " 

" The telephone's ringing again — violently," the wife 
whispered, pale to the lips. " Don't you hear it ? This 
time there's someone there — really ! " 

The cousin stared blankly at her. The laugh choked in 
her throat. " / hear nothing," she said defiantly, yet 
without confidence in her voice. " Besides, the thing's still 
disconnected. It can't ring — look ! " She pointed to the 
hanging receiver motionless against the wall. " You!re 
white as a ghost, though," she added, coming quickly 
forward. Her friend moved suddenly to the instrument 
and picked up the receiver. " It's someone for me," she 
said, with terror in her eyes. " It's someone who wants to 
talk to me ! Oh, hark ! hark how it rings ! " Her voice 
shook. She placed the little disc to her ear and waited 
while her friend stood by and stared in amazement, un- 
certain what to do. She had heard no ringing ! 

" You, Harry ! " whispered the wife into the telephone, 
with brief intervals of silence for the replies. " You ? 
But how in the world so soon ? — Yes, I can just hear, but 
very faintly. Miles and miles away your voice sounds — 
What ? — A wonderful journey ? And sooner than you 
expected ! — Not in Paris ? Where, then ? — Oh ! my 
darling boy — No, I don't quite hear ; I can't catch 
it — I don't understand. . . . The pain of the sea is 



332 STRANGE STORIES 

nothing — is what? . . . You know nothing of what . . . ?" 
The cousin came boldly up. She took her arm. " But, 

child, there's no one there, bless you ! You're dreaming 

you're in fever or something " 

" Hush ! For God's sake, hush ! " She held up a hand. 
In her face and eyes was an expression indescribable — fear, 
love, bewilderment. Her body swayed a little, leaning 
against the wall. " Hush ! I hear him still ; but, oh ! 
miles and miles away— He says — he's been trying for 
hours to find me. First he tried my brain direct, and then 
— then — oh ! he says he may not get back again to me — 
only he can't understand, can't explain why — the cold, the 

awful cold, keeps his lips from Ob ! " 

She screamed aloud as she flung the receiver down and 
dropped in a heap upon the floor. " I don't understand — 
it's death, death ! " . . . 

And the collision in the Channel that night, as they 
learned in due course, occurred a few minutes after one 
o'clock ; while Harry himself, who remained unconscious 
for several hours after the boat picked him up, could only 
remember that his last desire as the wave caught him was an 
intense wish to communicate with his wife and tell her 
what had happened. . . . The next thing he knew was 
opening his eyes in a Dieppe hotel. 

And the other curious detail was furnished by the man 
who came to repair the telephone next day. At the 
Exchange, he declared, the wire, from midnight till nearly 
three in the morning, had emitted sparks and flashes of 
light no one had been able to account for in any usual 
manner. 

" Queer ! " said the man to himself, after tinkering and 
tapping for ten minutes, " but there's nothing wrong with 
it at this end. It's the subscriber, most likely. It usually 



THE GOBLIN'S COLLECTION 

DUTTON accepted the invitation for the feeble reason 
that he was not quick enough at the moment to find 
a graceful excuse. He had none of that facile brilliance 
which is so useful at week-end parties ; he was a big, shy, 
awkward man. Moreover, he disliked these great houses. 
They swallowed him. The solemn, formidable butlers 
oppressed him. He left on Sunday night when possible. 
This time, arriving with an hour to dress, he went upstairs 
to an enormous room, so full of precious things that he felt 
like an insignificant item in a museum corridor. He 
smiled disconsolately as the underling who brought up his 
bag began to fumble with the lock. But, instead of the 
sepulchral utterance he dreaded, a delicious human voice 
with an unmistakable brogue proceeded from the stooping 
figure. It was positively comforting. " It 'ull be locked, 
sorr, but maybe ye have the key ? " And they bent 
together over the disreputable kit-bag, looking like a pair of 
ants knitting antennae on the floor of some great cave. The 
giant four-poster watched them contemptuously ; maho- 
gany cupboards wore an air of grave surprise ; the gaping, 
open fireplace alone could have swallowed all his easels — 
almost, indeed, his little studio. This human, Irish 
presence was distinctly consoling — some extra hand or 
other, thought Dutton, probably. 

He talked a little with the lad ; then, lighting a cigarette, 
he watched him put the clothes away in the capacious 
cupboards, noticing in particular how neat and careful he 
was with the little things. Nail-scissors, silver stud-box, 

333 



334 STRANGE STORIES 

metal shoe-horn, and safety razor, even the bright cigar- 
cutter and pencil-sharpener collected loose from the bottom 
of the bag — all these he placed in a row upon the dressing- 
table with the glass top, and seemed never to have done 
with it. He kept coming back to rearrange and put a 
final touch, lingering over them absurdly. Dutton watched 
him with amusement, then surprise, finally with ex- 
asperation. Would he never go ? " Thank you," he said 
at last ; " that will do. I'll dress now. What time is 
dinner ? " The lad told him, but still lingered, evidently 
anxious to say more. " Everything's out, I think," 
repeated Dutton impatiently ; " all the loose things, I 
mean ? " The face at once turned eagerly. What 
mischievous Irish eyes he had, to be sure ! " I've put thim 
all together in a row, sorr, so that ye'll not be missing 
anny-thing at all," was the quick reply, as he pointed to the 
ridiculous collection of little articles, and even darted back 
to finger them again. He counted them one by one. And 
then suddenly he added, with a touch of personal interest 
that was not familiarity, " It's so easy, ye see, sorr, to lose 
thim small bright things in this great room." And he was 
gone. 

Smiling a little to himself, Dutton began to dress, 
wondering how the lad had left the impression that his 
words meant more than they said. He almost wished he 
had encouraged him to talk. " The small bright things in 
this great room " — what an admirable description, almost 
a criticism ! He felt like a prisoner of state in the Tower. 
He stared about him into the alcoves, recesses, deep 
embrasured windows ; the tapestries and huge curtains 
oppressed him ; next he fell to wondering who the other 
guests would be, whom he would take in to dinner, how 
early he could make an excuse and slip off to bed ; then, 
midway in these desultory thoughts, became suddenly 



THE GOBLIN'S COLLECTION 335 

aware of a curiously sharp impression — that he was being 
watched. Somebody, quite close, was looking at him. He 
dismissed the fancy as soon as it was born, putting it down 
to the size and mystery of the old-world chamber ; but in 
spite of himself the idea persisted teasingly, and several 
times he caught himself turning nervously to look over his 
shoulder. It was not a ghostly feeling ; his nature was not 
accessible to ghostly things. The strange idea, lodged 
securely in his brain, was traceable, he thought, to some- 
thing the Irish lad had said— grew out, rather, of what he 
had left unsaid. He idly allowed his imagination to 
encourage it. Someone, friendly but curious, with in- 
quisitive, peeping eyes, was watching him. Someone very 
tiny was hiding in the enormous room. He laughed about 
it ; but he felt different. A certain big, protective feeling 
came over him that he must go gently lest he tread on some 
diminutive living thing that was soft as a kitten and 
elusive as a baby mouse. Once, indeed, out of the corner of 
his eye, he fancied he saw a little thing with wings go 
fluttering past the great purple curtains at the other end. 
It was by a window. " A bird, or something, outside," he 
told himself with a laugh, yet moved thenceforth more 
often than not on tiptoe. This cost him a certain effort : 
his proportions were elephantine. He felt a more friendly 
interest now in the stately, imposing chamber. 

The dressing-gong brought him back to reality and 
stopped the flow of his imagining. He shaved, and labori- 
ously went on dressing then ; he was slow and leisurely in 
his movements, like many big men ; very orderly, too. 
But when he was ready to put in his collar stud it was 
nowhere to be found. It was a worthless bit of brass, but 
most important ; he had only one. Five minutes ago it 
had been standing inside the ring of his collar on the marble 
slab ; he had carefully placed it there. Now it had dis- 



336 STRANGE STORIES 

appeared and left no trail. He grew warm and untidy in 
the search. It was something of a business for Dutton to 
go on all fours. " Malicious little beast ! " he grunted, 
rising from his knees, his hand sore where he had scraped it 
beneath the Cupboard. His trouser-crease was runed, his 
hair was tumbled. He knew too well the elusive activity 
of similar small objects. " It will turn up again," he tried 

to laugh, " if I pay it no attention. Mai " he abruptly 

changed the adjective, as though he had nearly said a 
dangerous thing — " naughty little imp ! " He went on 
dressing, leaving the collar to the last. He fastened the 
cigar-cutter to his chain, but the nail-scissors, he noticed 
now, had also gone. " Odd," he reflected, " very odd ! " 
He looked at the place where they had been a few minutes 
ago. " Odd ! " he repeated. And finally, in desperation, 
he rang the bell. The heavy curtains swung inwards as he 
said, " Come in," in answer to the knock, and the Irish boy, 
with the merry, dancing eyes, stood in the room. He 
glanced half nervously, half expectantly, about him. 
" It'll be something ye have lost, sorr ? " he said at once, as 
though he knew. 

" I rang," said Dutton, resenting it a little, " to ask you 
if you could get me a collar stud — for this evening. Any- 
thing will do." He did not say he had lost his own. 
Someone, he felt, who was listening, would chuckle and be 
pleased. It was an absurd position. 

" And will it be a shtud like this, sorr, that yez wanting?" 
asked the boy, picking up the lost object from inside the 
collar on the marble slab. 

" Like that, yes," stammered the other, utterly amazed. 
He had overlooked it, of course, yet it was in the identical 
place where he had left it. He felt mortified and foolish. 
It was so obvious that the boy grasped the situation — 
more, had expected it. It was as if the stud had been taken 



THE GOBLIN'S COLLECTION 337 

and replaced deliberately. " Thank you," he added, 
turning away to hide his face as the lad backed out — with a 
grin, he imagined, though he did not see it. Almost 
immediately, it seemed, then he was back again, holding 
out a little cardboard box containing an assortment of 
ugly bone studs. Dutton felt as if the whole thing had been 
prepared beforehand. How foolish it was ! Yet behind it 
lay something real and true and — utterly incredible ! 

" They won't get taken, sorr," he heard the lad say from 
the doorway. " They're not neaily bright enough." 

The other decided not to hear. " Thanks," he said 
curtly ; " they'll do nicely." 

There was a pause, but the boy did not go. Taking a 
deep breath, he said very quickly, as though greatly daring, 
" It's only the bright and little lovely things he takes, sorr, 
if ye plaze. He takes thim for his collection, and there's no 
stoppin' him at all." It came out with a rush, and Dutton, 
hearing it, let the human thing rise up in him. He turned 
and smiled. 

" Oh, he takes these things for his collection, does he ? " 
he asked more gently. 

The boy looked dreadfully shame-faced, confession 
hanging on his lips. " The little bright and lovely things, 
sorr, yes. I've done me best, but there's things he can't 
resist at all. The bone ones is safe, though. He won't 
look at thim." 

" I suppose he followed you across from Ireland, eh ? " 
the other inquired. 

The lad hung his head. " I told Father Madden," he 
said in a lower voice, " but it's not the least bit of good in 
the wurrld." He looked as though he had been convicted 
of stealing and feared to lose his place. Suddenly, lifting 
his blue eyes, he added, " But if ye take no notice at all he 
ginrelly puts everything back in its place agin. He only 



33« STRANGE STORIES 

borrows thim, just for a little bit of toime. Pretend ye're 
not wantin' thim at all, sorr, and back they'll come prisintly 
agani, brighter than before maybe." 

" I see," answered Dutton slowly. " All right, then," he 
dismissed him, " and I won't say a word downstairs. You 
needn't be afraid," as the lad looked his gratitude and 
vanished like a flash, leaving the other with a queer and 
eerie feeling, staring at the ugly bone studs. He finished 
dressing hurriedly and went downstairs. He went on 
tiptoe out of the great room, moving delicately and with 
care, lest he might tread on something very soft and tiny, 
almost wounded, like a butterfly with a broken wing. And 
from the corners, he felt positive, something watched him 
go- 

The ordeal of dinner passed off well enough ; the rather 
heavy evening too. He found the opportunity to slip off 
early to bed. The nail-scissors were in their place again. 
He read till midnight ; nothing happened. His hostess had 
told him the history of his room, inquiring kindly after his 
comfort. " Some people feel rather lost in it," she said ; 
" I hope you found all you want," and, tempted by her 
choice of words— the " lost " and " found "—he nearly told 
the story of the Irish lad whose goblin had followed him 
across the sea and " borrowed little bright and lovely 
things for his collection." But he kept his word ; he told 
nothing ; she would only have stared, for one thing. For 
another, he was bored, and therefore uncommunicative. 
He smiled inwardly. All that this giant mansion could 
produce for his comfort and amusement were ugly bone 
studs, a thieving goblin, and a vast bedroom where dead 
royalty had slept. Next day, at intervals, when changing 
for tennis or back again for lunch, the " borrowing " 
continued ; the little things he needed at the moment had 
disappeared. They turned up later. To ignore their 



THE GOBLIN'S COLLECTION 339 

disappearance was the recipe for their recovery— invariably, 
too, just where he had seen them last. There was the lost 
object shining in his face, propped impishly on its end, just 
ready to fall upon the carpet, and ever with a quizzical, 
malicious air of innocence that was truly goblin. His 
collar stud was the favourite ; next came the scissors and 
the silver pencil-sharpener. 

Trains and motors combined to keep him Sunday night, 
but he arranged to leave on Monday before the other 
guests were up, and so got early to bed. He meant to 
watch. There was a merry, jolly feeling in him that he h ad 
established quasi-friendly relations with the little Borrower. 
He might even see an object go — catch it in the act of 
disappearing! He arranged the bright objects in a row 
upon the glass-topped dressing-table opposite the bed, and 
while reading kept an eye slyly on the array of tempting 
bait. But nothing happened. " It's the wrong way," he 
realised suddenly. "What a blunderer I am!" He 
turned the light out, then. Drowsiness crept over him. 
. Next day, of course, he told himself it was a dream. 

The night was very still, and through the latticed windows 
stole faintly the summer moonlight. Outside the foliage 
rustled a little in the wind. A night-jar called from the 
fields, and a secret, furry owl made answer from the copse 
beyond. The body of the chamber lay in thick darkness, 
but a slanting ray of moonlight caught the dressing-table 
and shone temptingly upon the silver objects. " It's like 
setting a night-line," was the last definite thought he 
remembered— when the laughter that followed stopped 
suddenly, and his nerves gave a jerk that turned him 
keenly alert. 

From the enormous open fireplace, gaping in darkness at 
the end of the room, issued a thread of delicate sound that 
was softer than a feather. A tiny flurry of excitement, 



34° STRANGE STORIES 

furtive, tentative, passed shivering across the air. An 
exquisite, dainty nutter stirred the night, and through the 
heavy human brain upon the great four-poster fled this 
picture, as from very far away, picked out in black and 
silver — of a wee knight-errant crossing the frontiers of 
fairyland, high mischief in his tiny, beating heart. Prick- 
ing along over the big, thick carpet, he came towards the 
bed, towards the dressing-table, intent upon bold plunder. 
Dutton lay motionless as a stone, and watched and listened. 
The blood in his ears smothered the sound a little, but he 
never lost it altogether. The flicking of a mouse's tail or 
whiskers could hardly have been more gentle than this 
sound, more wary, circumspect, discreet, certainly not half 
so artful. Yet the human being in the bed, so heavily 
breathing, heard it well. Closer it came, and closer, oh, 
so elegant and tender, this bold attack of a wee Adventurer 
from another world. It shot swiftly past the bed. With a 
little flutter, delicious, almost musical, it rose in the air 
before his very face and entered the pool of moonlight on the 
dressing-table. Something blurred it then ; the human 
sight grew troubled and confused a moment ; a mingling 
of moonlight with the reflections from the mirror, slab of 
glass, and shining objects obscured clear vision somehow. 
For a second Dutton lost the proper focus. There was a 
tiny rattle and a tiny click. He saw that the pencil- 
sharpener stood balanced on the table's very edge. It was 
in the act of vanishing. 

But for his stupid blunder, then he might have witnessed 
more. He simply could not restrain himself, it seems. 
He sprang, and at the same instant the silver object fell 
upon the carpet. Of course his elephantine leap made the 
entire table shake. But, anyhow, he was not quick enough. 
He saw the reflection of a slim and tiny hand slide down 
into the mirrored depths of the reflecting sheet of glass — ■ 



THE GOBLIN'S COLLECTION 341 

deep, deep down, and swift as a flash of light. This he 
thinks he saw, though the light, he admits, was oddly 
confusing in that moment of violent and clumsy movement. 

One thing, at any rate, was beyond all question : the 
pencil-sharpener had disappeared. He turned the light 
up ; he searched for a dozen minutes, then gave it up in 
despair and went back to bed. Next morning he searched 
again. But, having overslept himself, he did not search 
as thoroughly as he might have done, for half-way through 
the tiresome operation the Irish lad came in to take his bag 
for the train. 

" Will ut be something ye've lost, sorr ? " he asked 
gravely. 

" Oh, it's all right," Dutton answered from the floor. 
" You can take the bag — and my overcoat." And in 
town that day he bought another pencil-sharpener and 
hung it on his chain. 



RUNNING WOLF 

THE man who enjoys an adventure outside the general 
experience of the race, and imparts it to others, must 
not be surprised if he is taken for either a liar or a fool, as 
Malcolm Hyde, hotel clerk on a holiday, discovered in due 
course. Nor is " enjoy " the right word to use in describing 
his emotions ; the word he choose was probably " survive." 

When he first set eyes on Medicine Lake he was struck by 
its still, sparkling beauty, lying there in the vast Canadian 
backwoods ; next, by its extreme loneliness ; and, lastly — a 
good deal later, this — by its combination of beauty, 
loneliness, and singular atmosphere, due to the fact that it 
was the scene of his adventure. 

" It's fairly stiff with big fish," said Morton of the 
Montreal Sporting Club. " Spend your holiday there — up 
Mattawa way, some fifteen miles west of Stony Creek. 
You'll have it all to yourself except for an old Indian who's 
got a shack there. Camp on the east side — if you'll take a 
tip from me." He then talked for half an hour about the 
wonderful sport ; yet he was not otherwise very communica- 
tive, and did not suffer questions gladly, Hyde noticed. 
Nor had he stayed there very long himself. If it was such a 
paradise as Morton, its discoverer and the most experienced 
rod in the province, claimed, why had he himself spent only 
three days there ? 

" Ran short of grub," was the explanation offered ; but 
to another friend he had mentioned briefly, " flies," and to a 
third, so Hyde learned later, he gave the excuse that his 
half-breed " took sick," necessitating a quick return to 
civilisation. 

342 



RUNNING WOLF 343 

Hyde, however, cared little for the explanations ; his 
interest in these came later. " Stiff with fish " was the 
phrase he liked. He took the Canadian Pacific train to 
Mattawa, laid in his outfit at Stony Creek, and set off thence 
for the fifteen-mile canoe-trip without a care in the world. 

Travelling light, the portages did not trouble him ; the 
water was swift and easy, the rapids negotiable ; every- 
thing came his way, as the saying is. Occasionally he saw 
big fish making for the deeper pools, and was sorely tempted 
to stop ; but he resisted. He pushed on between the 
immense world of forests that stretched for hundreds of 
miles, known to deer, bear, moose, and wolf, but strange to 
any echo of human tread, a deserted and primeval wilder- 
ness. The autumn day was calm, the water sang and 
sparkled, the blue sky hung cloudless over all, ablaze with 
light. Toward evening he passed an old beaver-dam, 
rounded a little point, and had his first sight of Medicine 
Lake. He lifted his dripping paddle ; the canoe shot with 
silent glide into calm water. He gave an exclamation of 
delight, for the loveliness caught his breath away. 

Though primarily a sportsman, he was not insensible to 
beauty. The lake formed a crescent, perhaps four miles 
long, its width between a mile and half a mile. The 
slanting gold of sunset flooded it. No wind stirred its 
crystal surface. Here it had lain since the redskin's god 
first made it ; here it would lie until he dried it up again. 
Towering spruce and hemlock trooped to its very edge, 
majestic cedars leaned down as if to drink, crimson sumachs 
shone in fiery patches, and maples gleamed orange and red 
beyond belief. The air was like wine, with the silence of a 
dream. 

It was here the red men formerly " made medicine," with 
all the wild ritual and tribal ceremony of an ancient day. 
But it was of Morton, rather than of Indians, that Hyde 



344 STRANGE STORIES 

thought. If this lonely, hidden paradise was really stiff 
with big fish, he owed a lot to Morton for the information. 
Peace invaded him, but the excitement of the hunter lay 
below. 

He looked about him with quick, practised eye for a 
camping-place before the sun sank below the forests and 
the half-lights came. The Indian's shack, lying in full 
sunshine on the eastern shore, he found at once ; but the 
trees lay too thick about it for comfort, nor did he wish to 
be so close to its inhabitant. Upon the opposite side, 
however, an ideal clearing offered. This lay already in 
shadow, the huge forest darkening it toward evening ; but 
the open space attracted. He paddled over quickly and 
examined it. The ground was hard and dry, he found, 
and a little brook ran tinkling down one side of it into the 
lake. This outfall, too, would be a good fishing spot. Also 
it was sheltered. A few low willows marked the mouth. 

An experienced camper soon makes up his mind. It was 
a perfect site, and some charred logs, with traces of former 
fires, proved that he was not the first to think so. Hyde 
was delighted. Then, suddenly, disappointment came to 
tinge his pleasure. His kit was landed, and preparations 
for putting up the tent were begun, when he recalled a 
detail that excitement had so far kept in the background of 
his mind — Morton's advice. But not Morton's only, for the 
storekeeper at Stony Creek had reinforced it. The big 
fellow with straggling moustache and stooping shoulders, 
dressed in shirt and trousers, had handed him out a final 
sentence with the bacon, flour, condensed milk, and sugar. 
He had repeated Morton's half-forgotten words : 

" Put yer tent on the east shore. I should," he had said 
at parting. 

He remembered Morton, too, apparently. " A shortish 
fellow, brown as an Indian and fairly smelling of the 



RUNNING WOLF 345 

woods. Travelling with Jake, the half-breed." That 
assuredly was Morton. " Didn't stay long, now, did he ? " 
he added in a reflective tone. 

" Going Windy Lake way, are yer ? Or Ten Mile Water, 
maybe ? " he had first inquired of Hyde. 

" Medicine Lake." 

" Is that so ? " the man said, as though he doubted it 
for some obscure reason. He pulled at his ragged moustache 
a moment. " Is that so, now ? " he repeated. And the 
final words followed him down-stream after a considerable 
pause — the advice about the best shore on which to put his 
tent. 

All this now suddenly flashed back upon Hyde's mind 
with a tinge of disappointment and annoyance, for when 
two experienced men agreed, their opinion was not to be 
lightly disregarded. He wished he had asked the store- 
keeper for more details . He looked about him, he reflected, 
he hesitated. His ideal camping-ground lay certainly on 
the forbidden shore. What in the world, he wondered, 
could be the objection to it ? 

But the light was fading ; he must decide quickly one 
way or the other. After staring at his unpacked dunnage 
and the tent, already half erected, he made up his mind with 
a muttered expression that consigned both Morton and the 
storekeeper to less pleasant places. "They must have 
some reason," he growled to himself ; " fellows like that 
usually know what they're talking about. I guess I'd 
better shift over to the other side — for to-night, at any 
rate." 

He glanced across the water before actually reloading. 
No smoke rose from the Indian's shack. He had seen no 
sign of a canoe. The man, he decided, was away. Re- 
luctantly, then, he left the good camping-ground and 
paddled across the lake, and half an hour later his tent was 

M 



346 STRANGE STORIES 

up, firewood collected, and two small trout were already 
caught for supper. But the bigger fish, he knew, lay 
waiting for him on the other side by the little outfall, and 
he fell asleep at length on his bed of balsam boughs, annoyed 
and disappointed, yet wondering how a mere sentence 
could have persuaded him so easily against his own better 
judgment. He slept like the dead ; the sun was well up 
before he stirred. 

But his morning mood was a very different one. The 
brilliant light, the peace, the intoxicating air, all this was too 
exhilarating for the mind to harbour foolish fancies, and he 
marvelled that he could have been so weak the night 
before. No hesitation lay in him anywhere. He struck 
camp immediately after breakfast, paddled back across the 
strip of shining water, and quickly settled in upon the 
forbidden shore, as he now called it, with a contemptuous 
grin. And the more he saw of the spot, the better he liked 
it. There was plenty of wood, running water to drink, an 
open space about the tent, and there were no flies. The 
fishing, moreover, was magnificent. Morton's description 
was fully justified, and " stiff with big fish " for once was 
not an exaggeration. 

The useless hours of the early afternoon he passed dozing 
in the sun, or wandering through the underbrush beyond 
the camp. He found no sign of anything unusual. He 
bathed in a cool, deep pool ; he revelled in the lonely little 
paradise. Lonely it certainly was, but the loneliness was 
part of its charm ; the stillness, the peace, the isolation of 
this beautiful backwoods lake delighted him. The silence 
was divine. He was entirely satisfied. 

After a brew of tea, he strolled toward evening along the 
shore, looking for the first sign of a rising fish. A faint 
ripple on the water, with the lengthening shadows, made 
good conditions. Plop followed flop, as the big fellows 



RUNNING WOLF 347 

rose, snatched at their food, and vanished into the depths. 
He hurried back. Ten minutes later he had taken his rods 
and was gliding cautiously in the canoe through the quiet 
water. 

So good was the sport, indeed, and so quickly did the big 
trout pile up in the bottom of the canoe that, despite the 
growing lateness, he found it hard to tear himself away. 
" One more," he said, " and then I really will go." He 
landed that " one more," and was in the act of taking it off 
the hook, when the deep silence of the evening was curiously 
disturbed. He became abruptly aware that someone 
watched him. A pair of eyes, it seemed, were fixed upon 
him from some point in the surrounding shadows. 

Thus, at least, he interpreted the odd disturbance in his 
happy mood ; for thus he felt it. The feeling stole over 
him without the slightest warning. He was not alone. 
The slippery big trout dropped from his fingers. He sat 
motionless, and stared about him. 

Nothing stirred ; the ripple on the lake had died away ; 
there was no wind ; the forest lay a single purple mass of 
shadow ; the yellow sky, fast fading, threw reflections that 
troubled the eye and made distances uncertain. But there 
was no sound, no movement ; he saw no figure anywhere. 
Yet he knew that someone watched him, and a wave of 
quite unreasoning terror gripped him. The nose of the 
canoe was against the bank. In a moment, and instinc- 
tively, he shoved it off and paddled into deeper water. The 
watcher, it came to him also instinctively, was quite close 
to him upon that bank. But where ? And who ? Was 
it the Indian ? 

Here, in deeper water, and some twenty yards from the 
shore, he paused and strained both sight and hearing to find 
some possible clue. He felt half ashamed, now that the 
first strange feeling passed a little. But the certainty 



348 STRANGE STORIES 

remained. Absurd as it was, he felt positive that someone 
watched him with concentrated and intent regard. Every 
fibre in his being told him so ; and though he could discover 
no figure, no new outline on the shore, he could even have 
sworn in which clump of willow bushes the hidden person 
crouched and stared. His attention seemed drawn to that 
particular clump. 

The water dripped slowly from his paddle, now lying 
across the thwarts. There was no other sound. The 
canvas of his tent gleamed dimly. A star or two were out. 
He waited. Nothing happened. 

Then, as suddenly as it had come, the feeling passed, and 
he knew that the person who had been watching him 
intently had gone. It was as if a current had been turned 
off ; the normal world flowed back ; the landscape emptied 
as if someone had left a room. The disagreeable feeling 
left him at the same time, so that he instantly turned the 
canoe in to the shore again, landed, and, paddle in hand, 
went over to examine the clump of willows he had singled 
out as the place of concealment. There wasno one there, 
of course, nor any trace of recent human occupancy. No 
leaves, no branches stirred, nor was a single twig displaced ; 
his keen and practised sight detected no sign of tracks upon 
the ground. Yet, for all that, he felt positive that a little 
time ago someone had crouched among these very leaves 
and watched him. He remained absolutely convinced of it. 
The watcher, whether Indian, hunter, stray lumberman, or 
wandering half-breed, had now withdrawn, a search was 
useless, and dusk was falling. He returned to his little 
camp, more disturbed perhaps than he cared to acknow- 
ledge. He cooked his supper, hung up his catch on a string, 
so that no prowling animal could get at it during the night, 
and prepared to make himself comfortable until bedtime. 
Unconsciously, he built a bigger fire than usual, and found 



RUNNING WOLF 349 

himself peering over his pipe into the deep shadows beyond 
the firelight, straining his ears to catch the slightest sound. 
He remained generally on the alert in a way that was new to 
him. 

A man under such conditions and in such a place need 
not know discomfort until the sense of loneliness strikes 
him as too vivid a reality. Loneliness in a backwoods 
camp brings charm, pleasure, and a happy sense of calm 
until, and unless, it comes too near. It should remain an 
ingredient only among other conditions ; it should not 
be directly, vividly noticed. Once it has crept within short 
range, however, it may easily cross the narrow line between 
comfort and discomfort, and darkness is an undesirable 
time for the transition. A curious dread may easily follow 
■ — the dread lest the loneliness suddenly be disturbed, and 
the solitary human feel himself open to attack. 

For Hyde, now, this transition had been already accom- 
plished ; the too intimate sense of his loneliness had shifted 
abruptly into the worse condition of no longer being quite 
alone. It was an awkward moment, and the hotel clerk 
realized his position exactly. He did not quite like it. He 
sat there, with his back to the blazing logs, a very visible 
object in the light, while all about him the darkness of the 
forest lay like an impenetrable wall. He could not see a 
foot beyond the small circle of his camp-fire ; the silence 
about him was like the silence of the dead. No leaf rustled, 
no wave lapped ; he himself sat motionless as a log. 

Then again he became suddenly aware that the person 
who watched him had returned, and that same intent and 
concentrated gaze as before was fixed upon him where he 
lay. There was no warning ; he heard no stealthy tread 
or snapping of dry twigs, yet the owner of those steady eyes 
was very close to him, probably not a dozen feet away. 
This sense of proximity was overwhelming. 



350 STRANGE STORIES 

It is unquestionable that a shiver ran down his spine. 
This time, moreover, he felt positive that the man crouched 
just beyond the firelight, the distance he himself could see 
being nicely calculated, and straight in front of him. For 
some minutes he sat without stirring a single muscle, yet 
with each muscle ready and alert, straining his eyes in vain 
to pierce the darkness, but only succeeding in dazzling his 
sight with the reflected light. Then, as he shifted his 
position slowly, cautiously, to obtain another angle of 
vision, his heart gave two big thumps against his ribs and 
the hair seemed to rise on his scalp with the sense of cold 
that shot horribly up his spine. In the darkness facing him 
he saw two small and greenish circles that were certainly a 
pair of eyes, yet not the eyes of Indian, hunter, or of any 
human being. It was a pair of animal eyes that stared so 
fixedly at him out of the night. And this certainty had an 
immediate and natural effect upon him. 

For, at the menace of those eyes, the fears of millions of 
long dead hunters since the dawn of time woke in him. 
Hotel clerk though he was, heredity surged through him in 
an automatic wave of instinct. His hand groped for a 
weapon. His fingers fell on the iron head of his small 
camp axe, and at once he was himself again. Confidence 
returned ; the vague, superstitious dread was gone. This 
was a bear or wolf that smelt his catch and came to steal it. 
With beings of that sort he knew instinctively how to deal, 
yet admitting, by this very instinct, that his original dread 
had been of quite another kind. 

" I'll damned quick find out what it is," he exclaimed 
aloud, and snatching a burning brand from the fire, he 
hurled it with good aim straight at the eyes of the beast 
before him. 

The bit of pitch-pine fell in a shower of sparks that lit the 
dry grass this side of the animal, flared up a moment, then 



' RUNNING WOLF 351 

1 died quickly down again. But in that instant of bright 
illumination he saw clearly what his unwelcome visitor was. 
A big timber wolf sat on its hindquarters, staring steadily 
at him through the firelight. He saw its legs and shoulders, 
he saw its hair, he saw also the big hemlock trunks lit up 
behind it, and the willow scrub on each side. It formed a 
vivid, clear-cut picture shown in clear detail by the momen- 
tary blaze. To his amazement, however, the wolf did not 
turn and bolt away from the burning log, but withdrew a 
few yards only, and sat there again on its haunches, staring, 
staring as before. Heavens, how it stared ! He " shoo-ed " 
it, but without effect ; it did not budge. He did not waste 
another good log on it, for his fear was dissipated now ; a 
timber wolf was a timber wolf, and it might sit there as long 
as it pleased, provided it did not try to steal his catch. No 
alarm was in him any more. He knew that wolves were 
harmless in the summer and autumn, and even when 
" packed " in the winter, they would attack a man only 
when suffering desperate hunger. So he lay and watched 
the beast, threw bits of stick in its direction, even talked to 
it, wondering only that it never moved. " You can stay 
there for ever, if you like," he remarked to it aloud, " for 
you cannot get at my fish, and the rest of the grub I shall 
take into the tent with me ! " 

The creature blinked its bright green eyes, but made no 
move. 

Why, then, if his fear was gone, did he think of certain 
things as he rolled himself in the Hudson Bay blankets 
before going to sleep ? The immobility of the animal was 
strange, its refusal to turn and bolt was still stranger. 
Never before had he known a wild creature that was not 
afraid of fire. Why did it sit and watch him, as with 
purpose in its dreadful eyes ? How had he felt its presence 
' earlier and instantly F A timber wolf, especially a solitary 



352 STRANGE STORIES 

timber wolf, was a timid thing, yet this one feared neither 
man nor fire. Now, as he lay there wrapped in his blankets 
inside the cosy tent, it sat outside beneath the stars, beside 
the fading embers, the wind chilly in its fur, the ground 
cooling beneath its planted paws, watching him, steadily 
watching him, perhaps until the dawn. 

It was unusual, it was strange. Having neither imagina- 
tion nor tradition, he called upon no store of racial visions. 
Matter of fact, a hotel clerk on a fishing holiday, he lay 
there in his blankets, merely wondering and puzzled. A 
timber wolf was a timber wolf and nothing more. Yet 
this timber wolf — the idea haunted him — was different. 
In a word, the deeper part of his original uneasiness re- 
mained. He tossed about, he shivered sometimes in his 
broken sleep ; he did not go out to see, but he woke early 
and unrefreshed. 

Again, with the sunshine and the morning wind, however, 
the incident of the night before was forgotten, almost unreal. 
His hunting zeal was uppermost. The tea and fish were 
delicious, his pipe had never tasted so good, the glory of this 
lonely lake amid primeval forests went to his head a little ; 
he was a hunter before the Lord, and nothing else. He 
tried the edge of the lake, and in the excitement of playing a 
big fish, knew suddenly that it, the wolf, was there. He 
paused with the rod, exactly as if struck. He looked about 
him, he looked in a definite direction. The brilliant 
sunshine made every smallest detail clear and sharp — 
boulders of granite, burned stems, crimson sumach, pebbles 
along the shore in neat, separate detail — without revealing 
where the watcher hid. Then, his sight wandering farther 
inshore among the tangled undergrowth, he suddenly picked 
up the familiar, half-expected outline. The wolf was lying 
behind a granite boulder, so that only the head, the muzzle, 
and the eyes were visible. It merged in its background. 



RUNNING WOLF 353 

Had he not known it was a wolf, he could never have 
separated it from the landscape. The eyes shone in the 
sunlight. 

There it lay. He looked straight at it. Their eyes, in 
fact, actually met full and square. " Great Scott ! " he 
exclaimed aloud, "why, it's like looking at a human 
being ! " From that moment, unwittingly, he established 
a singular personal relation with the beast. And what 
followed confirmed this undesirable impression, for the 
animal rose instantly and came down in leisurely fashion to 
the shore, where it stood looking back at him. It stood and 
stared into his eyes like some great wild dog, so that he was 
aware of a new and almost incredible sensation — that it 
courted recognition. 

" Well ! well ! " he exclaimed again, relieving his feelings 
by addressing it aloud, " if this doesn't beat everything I 
ever saw ! What d'you want, anyway ? " 

He examined it now more carefully. He had never seen 
a wolf so big before ; it was a tremendous beast, a nasty 
customer to tackle, he reflected, if it ever came to that. It 
stood there absolutely fearless and full of confidence. In 
the clear sunlight he took in every detail of it — a huge, 
shaggy, lean-flanked timber wolf, its wicked eyes staring 
straight into his own, almost with a kind of purpose in 
them. He saw its great jaws, its teeth, and its tongue, 
hung out, dropping saliva a little. And yet the idea of its 
savagery, its fierceness, was very little in him. 

He was amazed and puzzled beyond belief. He wished 
the Indian would come back. He did not understand this 
strange behaviour in an animal. Its eyes, the odd ex- 
pression in them, gave him a queer, unusual, difficult feeling. 
Had his nerves gone wrong, he almost wondered. 

The beast stood on the shore and looked at him. He 
wished for the first time that he had brought a rifle. With 

M* 



354 STRANGE STORIES 

a resounding smack lie brought his paddle down flat upon ' 
the water, using all his strength, till the echoes rang as 
from a pistol-shot that was audible from one end of the lake 
to the other. The wolf never stirred. He shouted, but the 
beast remained unmoved. He blinked his eyes, speaking 
as to a dog, a domestic animal, a creature accustomed to 
human ways. It blinked its eyes in return. 

At length, increasing his distance from the shore, he 
continued fishing, and the excitement of the marvellous 
sport held his attention — his surface attention, at any rate. 
At times he almost forgot the attendant beast ; yet when- 
ever he looked up, he saw it there. And worse ; when he 
slowly paddled home again, he observed it trotting along 
the shore as though to keep him company. Crossing a little 
bay, he spurted, hoping to reach the other point before his 
undesired and undesirable attendant. Instantly the brute 
broke into that rapid, tireless lope that, except on ice, can 
run down anything on four legs in the woods. When he 
reached the distant point, the wolf was waiting for him. 
He raised his paddle from the water, pausing a moment for 
reflection ; for this very close attention — there were dusk 
and night yet to come — he certainly did not relish. His 
camp was near ; he had to land ; he felt uncomfortable 
even in the sunshine of broad day, when, to his keen relief, 
about half a mile from the tent, he saw the creature suddenly 
stop and sit down in the open. He waited a moment, then 
paddled on. It did not follow. There was no attempt to 
move ; it merely sat and watched him. After a few 
hundred yards, he looked back. It was still sitting where 
he left it. And the absurd, yet significant, feeling came to 
him that the beast divined his thought, his anxiety, his 
dread, and was now showing him, as well as it could, that it 
entertained no hostile feeling and did not meditate attack . 
He turned the canoe toward the shore ; he landed ; he 



RUNNING WOLF 355 

cooked his supper in the dusk ; the animal made no sign. 
Not far away it certainly lay and watched, but it did not 
advance. And to Hyde, observant now in a new way, 
came one sharp, vivid reminder of the strange atmosphere 
into which his commonplace personality had strayed : he 
suddenly recalled that his relations with the beast, already 
established, had progressed distinctly a stage further. 
This startled him, yet without the accompanying alarm he 
must certainly have felt twenty-four hours before. He had 
an understanding with the wolf. He was aware of friendly 
thoughts toward it. He even went so far as to set out a few 
big fish on the spot where he had first seen it sitting the 
previous night. " If he comes," he thought, " he is 
welcome to them. I've got plenty, anyway." He thought 
of it now as " he." 

Yet the wolf made no appearance until he was in the act 
of entering his tent a good deal later. It was close on ten 
o'clock, whereas nine was his hour, and late at that, for 
turning in. He had, therefore, unconsciously been waiting 
for him. Then, as he was closing the flap, he saw the eyes 
close to where he had placed the fish. He waited, hiding 
himself, and expecting to hear sounds of munching jaws ; 
but all was silence. Only the eyes glowed steadily out of 
the background of pitch darkness. He closed the flap. 
He had no slightest fear. In ten minutes he was sound 
asleep. 

He could not have slept very long, for when he woke up 
he could see the shine of a faint red light through the canvas, 
and the fire had not died down completely. He rose and 
cautiously peeped out. The air was very cold ; he saw his 
breath. But he also saw the wolf, for it had come in, and 
was sitting by the dying embers, not two yards away from 
where he crouched behind the flap. And this time, at these 
very close quarters, there was something in the attitude of 



356 STRANGE STORIES 

the big wild thing that caught his attention with a vivid 
thrill of startled surprise and a sudden shock of cold that 
held him spellbound. He stared, unable to believe his 
eyes ; for the wolf's attitude conveyed to him something 
familiar that at first he was unable to explain. Its pose 
reached him in the terms of another thing with which he 
was entirely at home. What was it ? Did his senses 
betray him ? Was he still asleep and dreaming ? 

Then, suddenly, with a start of uncanny recognition, he 
knew. Its attitude was that of a dog. Having found the 
clue, his mind then made an awful leap. For it was, after 
all, no dog its appearance aped, but something nearer to 
himself, and more familiar still. Good heavens ! It sat 
there with the pose, the attitude, the gesture in repose of 
something almost human. And then, with a second shock 
of biting wonder, it came to him like a revelation. The 
wolf sat beside that camp-fire as a man might sit. 

Before he could weigh his extraordinary discovery, 
before he could examine it in detail or with care, the 
animal, sitting in this ghastly fashion, seemed to feel his 
eyes fixed on it. It slowly turned and looked him in the 
face, and for the first time Hyde felt a full-blooded, super- 
stitious fear flood through his entire being. He seemed 
transfixed with that nameless terror that is said to attack 
human beings who suddenly face the dead, finding them- 
selves bereft of speech and movement. This moment of 
paralysis certainly occurred. Its passing, however, was as 
singular as its advent. For almost at once he was aware of 
something beyond and above this mockery of human 
attitude and pose, something that ran along unaccustomed 
nerves and reached his feeling, even perhaps his heart. 
The revulsion was extraordinary, its result still more 
extraordinary and unexpected. Yet the fact remains. He 
was aware of another thing that had the effect of stilling his 



RUNNING WOLF 357 

terror as soon as it was bora. He was aware of appeal, 
silent, half expressed, yet vastly pathetic. He saw in the 
savage eyes a beseeching, even a yearning, expression that 
changed his mood as by magic from dread to natural 
sympathy. The great grey brute, symbol of cruel ferocity, 
sat there beside his dying fire and appealed for help. 

This gulf betwixt animal and human seemed in that 
instant bridged. It was, of course, incredible. Hyde, 
sleep stiU possibly clinging to his inner being with the 
shades and half shapes of dream yet about his soul, acknow- 
ledged, how he knew not, the amazing fact. He found 
himself nodding to the brute in half consent, and instantly, 
without more ado, the lean grey shape rose like a wraith 
and trotted off swiftly, but with stealthy tread, into the 
background of the night. 

When Hyde woke in the morning his first impression was 
that he must have dreamed the entire incident. His 
practical nature asserted itself. There was a bite in the 
fresh autumn air ; the bright sun allowed no half lights 
anywhere ; he felt brisk in mind and body. Reviewing 
what had happened, he came to the conclusion that it was 
utterly vain to speculate ; no possible explanation of the 
animal's behaviour occurred to him : he was dealing with 
something entirely outside his experience. His fear, 
however, had completely left him. The odd sense of 
friendliness remained. The beast had a definite purpose, 
and he himself was included in that purpose. His sympathy 
held good. 

But with the sympathy there was also an intense curiosity. 
" If it shows itself again," he told himself, " I'll go up close 
and find out what it wants." The fish laid out the night 
before had not been touched. 

It must have been a full hour after breakfast when he 
next saw the brute ; it was* standing on the edge of the 



358 STRANGE STORIES 

clearing, looking at him in the way now become familiar. 
Hyde immediately picked up his axe and advanced toward 
it boldly, keeping his eyes fixed straight upon its own. 
There was nervousness in him, but kept well under ; noth- 
ing betrayed it ; step by step he drew nearer until some ten 
yards separated them. The wolf had not stirred a muscle 
as yet. Its jaws hung open, its eyes observed him intently ; 
it allowed him to approach without a sign of what its mood 
might be. Then, with these ten yards between them, it 
turned abruptly and moved slowly off, looking back first 
over one shoulder and then over the other, exactly as a dog 
might do, to see if he was following. 

A singular journey it was they then made together, 
animal and man. The trees surrounded them at once, for 
they left the lake behind them, entering the tangled bush 
beyond. The beast, Hyde noticed, obviously picked the 
easiest track for him to follow ; for obstacles that meant 
nothing to the four-legged expert, yet were difficult for a 
man, were carefully avoided with an almost uncanny skill, 
while yet the general direction was accurately kept. Oc- 
casionally there were windfalls to be surmounted; but 
though the wolf bounded over these with ease, it was 
always waiting for the man on the other side after he had 
laboriously climbed over. Deepei and deeper into the 
heart of the lonely forest they penetrated in this singular 
fashion, cutting across the arc of the lake's crescent, it 
seemed to Hyde ; for after two miles or so, he recognized 
the big rocky bluff that overhung the water at its northern 
end. This outstanding bluff he had seen from his camp, 
one side of it falling sheer into the water ; it was probably 
the spot, he imagined, where the Indians held their medicine- 
making ceremonies, for it stood out in isolated fashion, and 
its top formed a private plateau not easy of access. And it 
was here, close to a big spruce at the foot of the bluff upon 



RUNNING WOLF 359 

the forest side, that the wolf stopped suddenly and for the 
first time since its appearance gave audible expression to its 
feelings. It sat down on its haunches, lifted its muzzle 
with open jaws, and gave vent to a subdued and long- 
drawn howl that was more like the wail of a dog, than the 
fierce barking cry associated with a wolf. 

By this time Hyde had lost not only fear, but caution 
too ; nor, oddly enough, did this warning howl revive a 
sign of unwelcome emotion in him. In that curious sound 
he detected the same message that the eyes conveyed — 
appeal for help. He paused, nevertheless, a little startled, 
and while the wolf sat waiting for him, he looked about him 
quickly. There was young timber here ; it had once been a 
small clearing, evidently. Axe and fire had done their 
work, but there was evidence to an experienced eye that it 
was Indians and not white men who had once been busy 
here. Some part of the medicine ritual, doubtless, took 
place in the little clearing, thought the man, as he advanced 
again towards his patient leader. The end of their queer 
journey, he felt, was close at hand. 

He had not taken two steps before the animal got up and 
moved very slowly in the direction of some low bushes that 
formed a clump just beyond. It entered these, first looking 
back to make sure that its companion watched. The 
bushes hid it ; a moment later it emerged again. Twice it 
performed this pantomime, each time, as it reappeared, 
standing still and staring at the man with as distinct an 
expression of appeal in the eyes as an animal may compass, 
probably. Its excitement, meanwhile, certainly increased, 
and this excitement was, with equal certainty, com- 
municated to the man. Hyde made up his mind quickly. 
Gripping his axe tightly, and ready to use it at the first hint 
of malice, he moved slowly nearer to the bushes, wondering 
with something of a tremor what would happen. 



3<5o STRANGE STORIES 

If he expected to be startled, his expectation was at once 
fulfilled ; but it was the behaviour of the beast that made 
him jump. It positively frisked about him like a happy 
dog. It frisked for joy. Its excitement was intense, yet 
from its open mouth no sound was audible. With a sudden 
leap, then, it bounded past him into the clump of bushes, 
against whose very edge he stood, and began scraping 
vigorously at the ground. Hyde stood and stared, amaze- 
ment and interest now banishing all his nervousness, even 
when the beast, in its violent scraping, actually touched his 
body with its own. He had, perhaps, the feeling that he 
was in a dream, one of those fantastic dreams in which 
things may happen without involving an adequate surprise ; 
for otherwise the manner of scraping and scratching at the 
ground must have seemed an impossible phenomenon. 
No wolf, no dog certainly, used its paws in the way those 
paws were working. Hyde had the odd, distressing 
sensation that it was hands, not paws, he watched. And 
yet, somehow, the natural, adequate surprise he should 
have felt was absent. The strange action seemed not 
entirely unnatural. In his heart some deep hidden spring 
of sympathy and pity stirred instead. He was aware of 
pathos. 

The wolf stopped in its task and looked up itno his face. 
Hyde acted without hesitation then. Afterwards he was 
wholly at a loss to explain his own conduct. It seemed he 
knew what to do, divined what was asked, expected of him. 
Between his mind and the dumb desire yearning through 
the savage animal there was intelligent and intelligible 
communication. He cut a stake and sharpened it, for the 
stones would blunt his axe-edge. He entered the clump of 
bushes to complete the digging his four-legged companion 
had begun. And while he worked, though he did not forget 
the close proximity of the wolf, he paid no attention to 



RUNNING WOLF 361 

it ; often his back was turned as he stooped over the 
laborious clearing away of the hard earth ; no uneasiness or 
sense of danger was in him any more. The wolf sat outside 
the clump and watched the operations. Its concentrated 
attention, its patience, its intense eagerness, the gentleness 
and docility of the grey, fierce, and probably hungry brute, 
its obvious pleasure and satisfaction, too, at having won the 
human to its mysterious purpose — these were colours in the 
strange picture that Hyde thought of later when dealing 
with the human herd in his hotel again. At the moment 
he was aware chiefly of pathos and affection. The whole 
business was, of course, not to be believed, but that dis- 
covery came later, too, when telling it to others. 

The digging continued for fully half an hour before his 
labour was rewarded by the discovery of a small whitish 
object. He picked it up and examined it — the finger-bone 
of a man. Other discoveries then followed quickly and in 
quantity. The cache was laid bare. He collected nearly 
the complete skeleton. The skull, however, he found last, 
and might not have found at all but for the guidance of his 
strangely alert companion. It lay some few yards away 
from the central hole now dug, and the wolf stood nuzzling 
the ground with its nose before Hyde understood that he 
was meant to dig exactly in that spot for it. Between the 
beast's very paws his stake struck hard upon it. He 
scraped the earth from the bone and examined it carefully. 
It was perfect, save for the fact that some wild animal had 
gnawed it, the teeth-marks being still plainly visible. 
Close beside it lay the rusty iron head of a tomahawk. 
This and the smallness of the bones confirmed him in his 
judgment that it was the skeleton not of a white man, but 
of an Indian. 

During the excitement of the discovery of the bones one 
by one, and finally of the skull, but, more especially, during 



362 STRANGE STORIES 

the period of intense interest while Hyde was examining 
them, he had paid little, if any, attention to the wolf. He 
was aware that it sat and watched him, never moving its 
keen eyes for a single moment from the actual operations, 
but of sign or movement it made none at all. He knew 
that it was pleased and satisfied, he knew also that he had 
now fulfilled its purpose in a great measure. The further 
intuition that now came to him, derived, he felt positive, 
from his companion's dumb desire, was perhaps the cream 
of the entire experience to him. Gathering the bones 
together in his coat, he carried them, together with the 
tomahawk, to the foot of the big spruce where the animal 
had first stopped. His leg actually touched the creature's 
muzzle as he passed. It turned its head to watch, but did 
not follow, nor did it move a muscle while he prepared the 
platform of boughs upon which he then laid the poor worn 
bones of an Indian who had been killed, doubtless, in 
sudden attack or ambush, and to whose remains had been 
denied the last grace of proper tribal burial. He wrapped 
the bones in bark ; he laid the tomahawk beside the skull ; 
he lit the circular fire round the pyre, and the blue smoke 
rose upward into the clear bright sunshine of the Canadian 
autumn morning till it was lost among the mighty trees far 
overhead. 

In the moment before actually lighting the little fire 
lie had turned to note what his companion did. It sat 
five yards away, he saw, gazing intently, and one of its 
front paws was raised a little from the ground. It made 
no sign of any kind. He finished the work, becoming so 
absorbed in it that he had eyes for nothing but the tending 
and guarding of his careful ceremonial fire. It was only 
when the platform of boughs collapsed, laying their charred 
burden gently on the fragrant earth among the soft wood 
ashes, that he turned again, as though to show the wolf 



f 



RUNNING WOLF 363 

what he had done, and seek, perhaps, some look of satis- 
faction in its curiously expressive eyes. But the place he 
searched was empty. The wolf had gone. 

He did not see it again ; it gave no sign of its presence 
anywhere ; he was not watched. He fished as before, 
wandered through the bush about his camp, sat smoking 
round his fire after dark, and slept peacefully in his cosy 
little tent. He was not disturbed. No howl was ever 
audible in the distant forest, no twig snapped beneath a 
stealthy tread, he saw no eyes. The wolf that behaved 
like a man had gone for ever. 

It was the day before he left that Hyde, noticing smoke 
rising from the shack across the lake, paddled over to 
exchange a word or two with the Indian, who had evidently 
now returned. The Redskin came down to meet him as 
he landed, but it was soon plain that he spoke very little 
English. He emitted the familiar grunts at first ; then 
bit by bit Hyde stirred his limited vocabulary into action. 
The net result, however, was slight enough, though it was 
certainly direct : 

" You camp there ? " the man asked, pointing to the 
other side. 

" Yes." 

" Wolf come ? " 

" Yes." 

" You see wolf ? " 

" Yes." 

The Indian stared at him fixedly a moment, a keen, 
wondering look upon his coppery, creased face. 

" You 'fraid wolf ? " he asked after a moment's pause. 

" No," replied Hyde, truthfully. He knew it was use- 
less to ask questions of his own, though he was eager for 
information. The other would have told him nothing. It 
was sheer luck that the man had touched on the subject 



364 STRANGE STORIES 

at all, and Hyde realized that his own best role was merely 
to answer, but to ask no questions. Then, suddenly, the 
Indian became comparatively voluble. There was awe in 
his voice and manner. 

"Him no wolf. Him big medicine wolf. Him spirit 
wolf." 

Whereupon he drank the tea the other had brewed for 
him, closed his lips tightly, and said no more. His outline 
was discernible on the shore, rigid and motionless, an hour 
later, when Hyde's canoe turned the corner of the lake 
three miles away, and landed to make the portages up the 
first rapid of his homeward stream. 

It was Morton who, after some persuasion, supplied 
further details of what he called the legend. Some 
hundred years before, the tribe that lived in the territory 
beyond the lake began their annual medicine-making 
ceremonies on the big rocky bluff at the northern end ; 
but no medicine could be made. The spirits, declared the 
chief medicine man, would not answer. They were 
offended. An investigation followed. It was discovered 
that a young brave had recently killed a wolf, a thing 
strictly forbidden, since the wolf was the totem animal of 
the tribe. To make matters worse, the name of the guilty 
man was Running Wolf. The offence being unpardonable, 
the man was cursed and driven from the tribe : 

" Go out. Wander alone among the woods, and if we 
see you we slay you. Your bones shall be scattered in the 
forest, and your spirit shall not enter the Happy Hunting 
Grounds till one of another race shall find and bury them." 

" Which meant," explained Morton laconically, his only 
comment on the story, " probably for ever." 



1 



I 



THE VALLEY OF THE BEASTS 



AS they emerged suddenly from the dense forest the 
Indian halted, and Grimwood, his employer, stood 
beside him, gazing into the beautiful wooded valley that 
lay spread below them in the blaze of a golden sunset. 
Both men leaned upon their rifles, caught by the enchant- 
ment of the unexpected scene. 

" We camp here," said Tooshalli abruptly, after a 
careful survey. " To-morrow we make a plan." 

He spoke excellent English. The note of decision, 
almost of authority, in his voice was noticeable, but 
Grimwood set it down to the natural excitement of the 
moment. Every track they had followed during the last 
two days, but one track in particular as well, had headed 
straight for this remote and hidden valley, and the sport 
promised to be unusual. 

" That's so," he replied, in the tone of one giving an 
order. " You can make camp ready at once." And he 
sat down on a fallen hemlock to take off his moccasin 
boots and grease his feet that ached from the arduous day 
now drawing to a close. Though under ordinary circum- 
stances he would have pushed on for another hour or two, 
he was not averse to a night here, for exhaustion had 
come upon him during the last bit of rough going, his eye 
and muscles were no longer steady, and it was doubtful 
if he could have shot straight enough to kill. He did not 
mean to miss a second time. 

565 



366 STRANGE STORIES 

With his Canadian friend, Iredale, the latter's half- 
breed, and his own Indian, Tooshalli, the party had set 
out three weeks ago to find the " wonderful big moose " 
the Indians reported were travelling in the Snow River 
country. They soon found that the tale was true ; tracks 
were abundant ; they saw fine animals nearly every day, 
but though carrying good heads, the hunters expected 
better still and left them alone. Pushing up the river to 
a chain of small lakes near its source, they then separated 
into two parties, each with its nine-foot bark canoe, and 
packed in for three days after the yet bigger animals the 
Indians agreed would be found in the deeper woods beyond. 
Excitement was keen, expectation keener still. The day 
before they separated, Iredale shot the biggest moose of 
his life, and its head, bigger even than the grand Alaskan 
heads, hangs in his house to-day. Grimwood's hunting 
blood was fairly up. His blood was of the fiery, not to 
say ferocious, quality. It almost seemed he liked killing 
for its own sake. 

Four days after the party broke into two he came 
upon a gigantic track, whose measurements and length 
of stride keyed every nerve he possessed to its highest 
tension. 

Tooshalli examined the tracks for some minutes with 
care. " It is the biggest moose in the world," he said at 
length, a new expression on his inscrutable red visage. 

Following it all that day, they yet got no sight of the 
big fellow that seemed to be frequenting a little marshy 
dip of country, too small to be called valley, where willow 
and undergrowth abounded. He had not yet scented his 
pursuers. They were after him again at dawn. Towards 
the evening of the second day Grimwood caught a sudden 
glimpse of the monster among a thick clump of willows, 
and the sight of the magnificent head that easily beat all 



1 



f 



THE VALLEY OF THE BEASTS 367 

records set his heart beating like a hammer with excitement. 
He aimed and fired. But the moose, instead of crashing, 
went thundering away through the further scrub and 
disappeared, the sound of his plunging canter presently 
dying away. Grimwood had missed, even if he had 
wounded. 

They camped, and all next day, leaving the canoe 
behind, they followed the huge track, but though finding 
signs of blood, these were not plentiful, and the shot had 
evidently only grazed the animal. The travelling was of 
the hardest. Towards evening, utterly exhausted, the 
spoor led them to the ridge they now stood upon, gazing 
down into the enchanting valley that opened at their feet. 
The giant moose had gone down into this valley. He 
would consider himself safe there. Grimwood agreed with 
the Indian's judgment. They would camp for the night 
and continue at dawn the wild hunt after " the biggest 
moose in the world." 

Supper was over, the small fire used for cooking dying 
down, when Grimwood became first aware that the Indian 
was not behaving quite as usual. What particular detail 
drew his attention is hard to say. He was a slow-witted, 
heavy man, full-blooded, unobservant ; a fact had to 
hurt him through his comfort, through his pleasure, before 
he noticed it. Yet anyone else must have observed the 
changed mood of the Redskin long ago. Tooshalli had 
made the fire, fried the bacon, served the tea, and was 
arranging the blankets, his own and his employer's, before 
the latter remarked upon his — silence. Tooshalli had not 
uttered a word for over an hour and a half, since he had 
first set eyes upon the new valley, to be exact. And his 
employer now noticed the unaccustomed silence, because 
after food he liked to listen to wood talk and hunting lore. 

" Tired out, aren't you ? " said big Grimwood, looking 



368 STRANGE STORIES 

into the dark face across the firelight. He resented the 
absence of conversation, now that he noticed it. He was 
over-weary himself, he felt more irritable than usual, 
though his temper was always vile. 

" Lost your tongue, eh ? " he went on with a growl, as 
the Indian returned his stare with solemn, expressionless 
face. That dark inscrutable look got on his nerves a bit. 
" Speak up, man ! " he exclaimed sharply. " What's it 
all about ? " 

The Englishman had at last realized that there was 
something to " speak up " about. The discovery, in his 
present state, annoyed him further. Tooshalli stared 
gravely, but made no reply. The silence was prolonged 
almost into minutes. Presently the head turned sideways, 
as though the man listened. The other watched him very 
closely, anger growing in him. 

But it was the way the Redskin turned his head, keeping 
his body rigid, that gave the jerk to Grimwood's nerves, 
providing him with a sensation he had never known in his 
life before — it gave him what is generally called " the 
goose-flesh." It seemed to jangle his entire system, yet 
at the same time made him cautious. He did not like it, 
this combination of emotions puzzled him. 

" Say something, I tell you," he repeated in a harsher 
tone, raising his voice. He sat up, drawing his great body 
closer to the fire. " Say something, damn it ! " 

His voice fell dead against the surrounding trees, making 
the silence of the forest unpleasantly noticeable. Very 
still the great woods stood about them ; there was no 
wind, no stir of branches ; only the crackle of a snapping 
twig was audible from time to time, as the night-life 
moved unwarily sometimes, watching the humans round 
their little fire. The October air had a frosty touch that 
nipped. 



1 



I 



THE VALLEY OF THE BEASTS 369 

The Redskin did not answer. No muscle of his neck 
nor of his stiffened body moved. He seemed all ears. ^ 

" Well ? " repeated the Englishman, lowering his voice 
this time instinctively. "What d'you hear, God damn 
it ! " The touch of odd nervousness that made his anger 
grow betrayed itself in his language. 

Tooshalli slowly turned his head back again to its 
normal position, the body rigid as before. 

" I hear nothing, Mr. Grimwood," he said, gazing with 
quiet dignity into his employer's eyes. 

This was too much for the other, a man of savage temper 
at the best of times. He was the type of Englishman 
who held strong views as to the right way of treating 
" inferior " races. 

" That's a lie, Tooshalli, and I won't have you lie to 
me. Now what was it ? Tell me at once ! " 

" I hear nothing," repeated the other. " I only think." 

" And what is it you're pleased to think ? " Impatience 
made a nasty expression round the mouth. 

" I go not," was the abrupt reply, unalterable decision 
in the voice. 

The man's rejoinder was so unexpected that Grimwood 
found nothing to' say at first. For a moment he did not 
take its meaning; his mind, always slow, was confused 
by impatience, also by what he considered the foolishness 
of the little scene. Then in a flash he understood ; but 
he also understood the immovable obstinacy of the race 
he had to deal with. Tooshalli was informing him that 
he refused to go into the valley where the big moose had 
vanished. And his astonishment was so great at first that 
he merely sat and stared. No words came to him. 

" It is " said the Indian, but used a native term. 

" What's that mean ? " Grimwood found his tongue, 
but his quiet tone was ominous. 



37° STRANGE STORIES 

" Mr. Grimwood, it mean the ' Valley of the Beasts,' " 
was the reply in a tone quieter still. 

The Englishman made a great, a genuine effort at self- 
control. He was dealing, he forced himself to remember, 
with a superstitious Redskin. He knew the stubbornness 
of the type. If the man left him his sport was irretrievably 
spoilt, for he could not hunt in this wilderness alone, and 
even if he got the coveted head, he could never, never get 
it out alone. His native selfishness seconded his effort. 
Persuasion, if only he could keep back his rising anger, 
was his role to play. 

" The Valley of the Beasts," he said, a smile on his lips 
rather than in his darkening eyes ; " but that's just what 
we want. It's beasts we're after, isn't it ? " His voice 
had a false cheery ring that could not have deceived a 
child. " But what d'you mean, anyhow — the Valley of 
the Beasts f " He asked it with a dull attempt at 
sympathy. 

" It belong to Ishtot, Mr. Grimwood." The man looked 
him full in the face, no flinching in the eyes. 

"My— our — big moose is there," said the other, who 
recognized the name of the Indian Hunting God, and 
understanding better, felt confident he would soon persuade 
his man. Tooshalli, he remembered, too, was nominallv 
a Christian. "We'll follow him at dawn and get the 
biggest head the world has ever seen. You will be 
famous," he added, his temper better in hand again. 
" Your tribe will honour you. And the white hunters will 
pay you much money." 

" He go there to save himself. I go not." 

The other's anger revived with a leap at this stupid 

obstinacy. But, in spite of it, he noticed the odd choice 

of words. He began to realize that nothing now would 

move the man. At the same time he also realized that 



I 



THE VALLEY OF THE BEASTS 371 

violence on his part must prove worse than useless. Yet 
violence was natural to his " dominant " type. " That 
brute Grimwood " was the way most men spoke of him. 

" Back at the settlement you're a Christian, remember," 
he tried, in his clumsy way, another line. "And dis- 
obedience means hell-fire. You know that ! " 

"la Christian — at the post," was the reply, " but out 
here the Red God rule. Ishtot keep that valley for himself. 
No Indian hunt there." It was as though a granite boulder 
spoke. 

The savage temper of the Englishman, enforced by the 
long difficult suppression, rose wickedly into sudden flame. 
He stood up, kicking his blankets aside. He strode 
across the dying fire to the Indian's side. Tooshalli also 
rose. They faced each other, two humans alone in the 
wilderness, watched by countless invisible forest eyes. 

Tooshalli stood motionless, yet as though he expected 
violence from the foolish, ignorant white-face. " You go 
alone, Mr. Grimwood." There was no fear in him. 

Grimwood choked with rage. His words came forth 
with difficulty, though he roared them into the silence of 
the forest : 

" I pay you, don't I ? You'll do what / say, not what 
you say ! " His voice woke the echoes. 

The Indian, arms hanging by his side, gave the old reply. 

" I go not," he repeated firmly. 

It stung the other into uncontrollable fury. 

The beast then came uppermost ; it came out. " You've 
said that once too often, Tooshalli ! " and he struck him 
brutally in the face. The Indian fell, rose to his knees 
again, collapsed sideways beside the fire, then struggled 
back into a sitting position. He never once took his eyes 
from the white man's face. 

Beside himself with anger, Grimwood stood over him. 



372 STRANGE STORIES 

" Is that enough ? Will you obey me now ? " he shouted. 
" I go not," came the thick reply, blood streaming from 
his mouth. The eyes had no flinching in them. " That 
valley Ishtot keep. Ishtot see us now. He see you." 
The last words he uttered with strange, almost uncanny 
emphasis. 

Grimwood, arm raised, fist clenched, about to repeat 
his terrible assault, paused suddenly. His arm sank to 
his side. What exactly stopped him he could never say. 
For one thing, he feared his own anger, feared that if 
he let himself go he would not stop till he had killed — 
committed murder. He knew his own fearful temper 
and stood afraid of it. Yet it was not only that. The 
calm firmness of the Redskin, his courage under pain, and 
something in the fixed and burning eyes arrested him. 
Was it also something in the words he had used — " Ishtot 
see you " — that stung him into a queer caution midway 
in his violence ? 

He could not say. He only knew that a momentary 
sense of awe came over him. He became unpleasantly 
aware of the enveloping forest, so still, listening in a kind 
of impenetrable, remorseless silence. This lonely wilderness, 
looking silently upon what might easily prove murder, laid 
a faint, inexplicable chill upon his raging blood. The 
hand dropped slowly to his side again, the fist unclenched 
itself, his breath came more evenly. 

"Look you here," he said, adopting without knowing 
it the local way of speech. " I ain't a bad man, though 
your going-on do make a man damned tired. I'll give 
you another chance." His voice was sullen, but a new 
note in it surprised even himself. " I'll do that. You 
can have the night to think it over, Tooshalli — see ? Talk 

it over with your " 

He did not finish the sentence. Somehow the name 



THE VALLEY OF THE BEASTS 373 

of the Redskin God refused to pass his lips. He turned 
away, flung himself into his blankets, and in less than ten 
minutes, exhausted as much by his anger as by the day's 
hard going, he was sound asleep. 

The Indian, crouching beside the dying fire, had said 
nothing. 

Night held the woods, the sky was thick with stars, 
the life of the forest went about its business quietly, with 
that wondrous skill which millions of years have perfected. 
The Redskin, so close to this skill that he instinctively 
used and borrowed from it, was silent, alert and wise, 
his outline as inconspicuous as though he merged, like 
his four-footed teachers, into the mass of the surrounding 
bush. 

He moved perhaps, yet nothing knew he moved. His 
wisdom, derived from that eternal, ancient mother who 
from infinite expeiience makes no mistakes, did not fail 
him. His soft tread made no sound; his breathing, as 
his weight, was calculated. The stars observed him, but 
they did not tell ; the light air knew his whereabouts, yet 
without betrayal. ... 

The chill dawn gleamed at length between the trees, 
lighting the pale ashes of an extinguished fire, also of a 
bulky, obvious form beneath a blanket. The form moved 
clumsily. The cold was penetrating. 

And that bulky form now moved because a dream had 
come to trouble it. A dark figure stole across its confused 
field of vision. The form started, but it did not wake. 
The figure spoke : " Take this," it whispered, handing a 
little stick, curiously carved. " It is the totem of great 
Ishtot. In the valley all memory of the White Gods will 
leave you. Call upon Ishtot. . . . Call on Him if you 
dare " ; and the dark figure glided away out of the dream 
and out of all remembrance. . . . 



374 STRANGE STORIES 

II 

The first thing Grimwood noticed when he woke was 
that Tooshalli was not there. No fire burned, no tea was 
ready. He felt exceedingly annoyed. He glared about 
him, then got up with a curse to make the fire. His 
mind seemed confused and troubled. At first he only 
realized one thing clearly — his guide had left him in the 
night. 

It was very cold. He lit the wood with difficulty and 
made his tea, and the actual world came gradually back 
to him. The Red Indian had gone ; perhaps the blow, 
perhaps the superstitious terror, perhaps both, had driven 
him away. He was alone, that was the outstanding fact. 
For anything beyond outstanding facts, Grimwood felt 
little interest. Imaginative speculation was beyond his 
compass. Close to the brute creation, it seemed, his 
nature lay. 

It was while packing his blankets — he did it auto- 
matically, a dull, vicious resentment in him — that his 
fingers struck a bit of wood that he was about to throw 
away when its unusual shape caught his attention suddenly. 
His odd dream came back then. But was it a dream ? 
The bit of wood was undoubtedly a totem stick. He 
examined it. He paid it more attention than he meant 
to, wished to. Yes, it was unquestionably a totem stick. 
The dream, then, was not a dream. Tooshalli had quit, 
but, following with Redskin faithfulness some code of his 
own, had left him the means of safety. He chuckled 
sourly, but thrust the stick inside his belt. " One never 
knows," he mumbled to himself. 

He faced the situation squarely. He was alone in the 
wilderness. His capable, experienced woodsman had 



THE VALLEY OF THE BEASTS 375 

deserted him. The situation was serious. What should 
he do ? A weakling would certainly retrace his steps, 
following the track they had made, afraid to be left alone 
in this vast hinterland of pathless forest. But Grimwood 
was of another build. Alarmed he might be, but he would 
not give in. He had the defects of his own qualities. 
The brutality of his nature argued force. He was deter- 
mined and a sportsman. He would go on. And ten 
minutes after breakfast, having first made a cache of what 
provisions were left over, he was on his way — down across 
the ridge and into the mysterious valley, the Valley of the 
Beasts. 

It looked, in the morning sunlight, entrancing. The 
trees closed in behind him, but he did not notice. It led 
him on. . . . 

He followed the track of the gigantic moose he meant 
to kill, and the sweet, delicious sunshine helped him. The 
air was like wine, the seductive spoor of the great beast, 
with here and there a faint splash of blood on leaves or 
ground, lay forever just before his eyes. He found the 
valley, though the actual word did not occur to him, 
enticing; more and more he noticed the beauty, the 
desolate grandeur of the mighty spruce and hemlock, 
the splendour of the granite bluffs which in places rose 
above the forest and caught the sun. . . . The valley was 
deeper, vaster than he had imagined. He felt safe, at 
home in it, though, again, these actual terms did not occur 
to him. . . . Here he could hide for ever and find peace. 
... He became aware of a new quality in the deep loneli- 
ness. The scenery for the first time in his life appealed 
to him, and the form of the appeal was curious — he felt 
the comfort of it. 

For a man of his habit, this was odd, yet the new 
sensations stole over him so gently, their approach so 



37<5 STRANGE STORIES 

gradual, that they were first recognized by his conscious- 
ness indirectly. They had already established themselves 
in him before he noticed them ; and the indirectness took 
this form — that the passion of the chase gave place to 
an interest in the valley itself. The lust of the hunt, the 
fierce desire to find and kill, the keen wish, in a word, to 
see his quarry within range, to aim, to fire, to witness the 
natural consummation of the long expedition — these had 
all become measurably less, while the effect of the valley 
upon him had increased in strength. There was a welcome 
about it that he did not understand. 

The change was singular, yet, oddly enough, it did 
not occur to him as singular ; it was unnatural, yet it 
did not strike him so. To a dull mind of his unobservant, 
unanalytical type, a change had to be marked and dramatic 
before he noticed it ; something in the nature of a shock 
must accompany it for him to recognize it had happened. 
And there had been no shock. The spoor of the great 
moose was much clearer, now that he caught up with the 
animal that made it ; the blood more frequent ; he had 
noticed the spot where it had rested, its huge body leaving 
a marked imprint on the soft ground ; where it had reached 
up to eat the leaves of saplings here and there was also 
visible ; he had come undoubtedly very near to it, and any 
minute now might see its great bulk within range of an 
easy shot. Yet his ardour had somehow lessened. 

He first realized this change in himself when it suddenly 
occurred to him that the animal itself had grown less 
cautious. It must scent him easily now, since a moose, 
its sight being indifferent, depends chiefly for its safety 
upon its unusually keen sense of smell, and the wind came 
from behind him. This now struck him as decidedly 
uncommon : the moose itself was obviously careless of his 
close approach. It felt no fear. 



THE VALLEY OF THE BEASTS 377 

It was this inexplicable alteration in the animal's 
behaviour that made him recognize, at last, the alteration 
in his own. He had followed it now for a couple of hours 
and had descended some eight hundred to a thousand 
feet ; the trees were thinner and more sparsely placed ; 
there were open, park-like places where silver birch, 
sumach and maple splashed their blazing colours ; and a 
crystal stream, broken by many waterfalls, foamed past 
towards the bed of the great valley, yet another thousand 
feet below. By a quiet pool against some over-arching 
rocks, the moose had evidently paused to drink, paused 
at its leisure, moreover. Grimwood, rising from a close 
examination of the direction the creature had taken after 
drinking — the hoof-marks were fresh and very distinct in 
the marshy ground about the pool — looked suddenly 
straight into the great creature's eyes. It was not twenty 
yards from where he stood, yet he had been standing on 
that spot for at least ten minutes, caught by the wonder 
and loneliness of the scene. The moose, therefore, had. 
been close beside him all this time. It had been calmly- 
drinking, undisturbed by his presence, unafraid. 

The shock came now, the shock that woke his heavy- 
nature into realization. For some seconds, probably 
for minutes, he stood rooted to the ground, motionless, 
hardly breathing. He stared as though he saw a vision. 
The animal's head was lowered, but turned obliquely 
somewhat, so that the eyes, placed sideways in its great 
head, could see him properly ; its immense proboscis hung 
as though stuffed upon an English wall ; he saw the fore- 
feet planted wide apart, the slope of the enormous shoulders 
dropping back towards the fine hind-quarters and lean 
flanks. It was a magnificent bull. The horns and head, 
justified his wildest expectations, they were superb, a 
record specimen, and a phrase — where had he heard it ? — 

N. 



378 STRANGE STORIES 

ran vaguely, as from far distance, through his mind : " the 
biggest moose in the world." 

There was the extraordinary fact, however, that he 
did not shoot ; nor feel the wish to shoot. The familiar 
instinct, so strong hitherto in his blood, made no sign ; 
the desire to kill apparently had left him. To raise his 
rifle, aim and fire had become suddenly an absolute 
impossibility. 

He did not move. The animal and the human stared 
into each other's eyes for a length of time whose interval 
he could not measure. Then came a soft noise close 
beside him : the rifle had slipped from his grasp and fallen 
with a thud into the mossy earth at his feet. And the 
moose, for the first time now, was moving. With slow, 
easy stride, its great weight causing a squelching sound 
as the feet drew out of the moist ground, it came towards 
him, the bulk of the shoulders giving it an appearance of 
swaying like a ship at sea. It reached his side, it almost 
touched him, the magnificent head bent low, the spread 
of the gigantic horns lay beneath his very eyes. He could 
have patted, stroked it. He saw, with a touch of pity, 
that blood trickled from a sore in its left shoulder, matting 
the thick hair. It sniffed the fallen rifle. 

Then, lifting its head and shoulders again, it sniffed 
the air, this time with an audible sound that shook from 
Grimwood's mind the last possibility that he witnessed a 
vision or dreamed a dream. One moment it gazed into 
his face, its big brown eyes shining and unafraid, then 
turned abruptly, and swung away at a speed ever rapidly 
increasing across the park-like spaces till it was lost finally 
among the dark tangle of undergrowth beyond. And the 
Englishman's muscles turned to paper, his paralysis passed, 
his legs refused to support his weight, and he sank heavily 
to the ground. . . . 



THE VALLEY OF THE BEASTS 379 

III 

It seems he slept, slept long and heavily ; he sat up, 
stretched himself, yawned and rubbed his eyes. The sun 
had moved across the sky, for the shadows, he saw, now 
ran from west to east, and they were long shadows. He 
had slept evidently for hours, and evening was drawing 
in. He was aware that he felt hungry. In his pouch-like 
pockets he had dried meat, sugar, matches, tea, and the 
little billy that never left him. He would make a fire, boil 
some tea and eat. 

But he took no steps to carry out his purpose, he felt 
disinclined to move, he sat thinking, thinking. . . . What 
was he thinking about ? He did not know, be could not 
say exactly ; it was more like fugitive pictures that passed 
across his mind. Who, and where, was he ? This was 
the Valley of the Beasts, that he knew ; he felt sure of 
nothing else. How long had he been here, and where had 
he come from, and why ? The questions did not linger for 
their answers, almost as though his interest in them was 
merely automatic. He felt happy, peaceful, unafraid. 

He looked about him, and the spell of this virgin forest 
came upon him like a charm ; only the sound of falling 
water, the murmur of wind sighing among innumerable 
branches, broke the enveloping silence. Overhead, beyond 
the crests of the towering trees, a cloudless evening sky 
was paling into transparent orange, opal, mother of pearl. 
He saw buzzards soaring lazily. A scarlet tanager flashed 
by. Soon would the owls begin to call and the darkness 
fall like a sweet black veil and hide all detail, while the 
stars sparkled in their countless thousands. . . . 

A glint of something that shone upon the ground caught 
his eye — a smooth, polished strip of rounded metal : his 



3«o STRANGE STORIES 

rifle. And he started to his feet impulsively, yet not 
knowing exactly what he meant to do. At the sight of 
the weapon, something had leaped to life in him, then 
faded out, died down, and was gone again. 

" I' m — I'm " he began muttering to himself, but 

■could not finish what he was about to say. His name had 
disappeared completely. "I'm in the Valley of the 
Beasts," he repeated in place of what he sought but could 
not find. 

This fact, that he was in the Valley of the Beasts, seemed 
the only positive item of knowledge that he had. About 
the name something known and familiar clung, though 
the sequence that led up to it he could not trace. Presently, 
nevertheless, he rose to his feet, advanced a few steps, 
stooped and picked up the shining metal thing, his rifle. 
He examined it a moment, a feeling of dread and loathing 
rising in him, a sensation of almost horror that made him 
tremble, then, with a convulsive movement that betrayed 
an intense reaction of some sort he could not comprehend, 
he flung the thing far from him into the foaming torrent. 
He saw the splash it made, he also saw that same instant 
a large grizzly bear swing heavily along the bank not a 
dozen yards from where he stood. It, too, heard the 
splash, for it started, turned, paused a second, then changed 
its direction and came towards him. It came up close. 
Its fur brushed his body. It examined him leisurely, as 
the moose had done, sniffed, half rose upon its terrible 
hind legs, opened its mouth so that red tongue and gleaming 
teeth were plainly visible, then flopped back upon all 
fours again with a deep growling that yet had no anger 
in it, and swung off at a quick trot back to the bank of 
the torrent. He had felt its hot breath upon his face, 
but he had felt no fear. The monster was puzzled but 
not hostile. It disappeared. 



THE VALLEY OF THE BEASTS 381 

" They know not " he sought for the word " man," 

but could not find it. " They have never been hunted." 

The words ran through his mind, if perhaps he was not 
entirely certain of their meaning ; they rose, as it were, 
automatically ; a familiar sound lay in them somewhere. 
At the samt time there rose feelings in him that were 
equally, though in another way, familiar and quite natural, 
feelings he had once known intimately but long since 
laid aside. 

What were they ? What was their origin ? They 
seemed distant as the stars, yet were actually in his body,, 
in his blood and nerves, part and parcel of his flesh. Long,, 
long ago. . . . Oh, how long, how long ? 

Thinking was difficult ; feeling was what he most easily 
and naturally managed. He could not think for long ;. 
feeling rose up and drowned the effort quickly. 

That huge and awful bear — not a nerve, not a muscle 
quivered in him as its acrid smell rose to his nostrils, its 
fur brushed down bis legs. Yet he was aware that some- 
where there was danger, though not here. Somewhere 
there was attack, hostility, wicked and calculated plans- 
against him — as against that splendid, roaming animal that 
had sniffed, examined, then gone its own way, satisfied- 
Yes, active attack, hostility and careful, cruel plans against 
his safety, but — not here. Here he was safe, secure, at 
peace ; here he was happy ; here he could roam at will,, 
no eye cast sideways into forest depths, no ear pricked 
high to catch sounds not explained, no nostrils quivering 
to scent alarm. He felt this, but he did not think it. He 
felt hungry, thirsty too. 

Something prompted him now at last to act. His billy 
lay at his feet, and he picked it up ; the matches — he 
carried them in a metal case whose screw top kept out all 
moisture — were in his hand. Gathering a few dry twigs, 



382 STRANGE STORIES 

he stooped to light them, then suddenly drew back with 
the first touch of fear he had yet known. 

Fire ! What was fire ? The idea was repugnant to 
him, it was impossible, he was afraid of fire. He flung 
the metal case after the rifle and saw it gleam in the last 
rays of sunset, then sink with a little splash beneath the 
water. Glancing down at his billy, he realized next that 
he could not make use of it either, nor of the dark dry 
dusty stuff he had meant to boil in water. He felt no 
repugnance, certainly no fear, in connection with these 
things, only he could not handle them, he did not need 
them, he had forgotten, yes, " forgotten," what they meant 
exactly. This strange forgetfulness was increasing in him 
rapidly, becoming more and more complete with every 
minute. Yet his thirst must be quenched. 

The next moment he found himself at the water's edge ; 
he stooped to fill his billy ; paused, hesitated, examined 
the rushing water, then abruptly moved a few feet higher 
up the stream, leaving the metal can behind him. His 
handling of it had been oddly clumsy, his gestures awkward, 
even unnatural. He now flung himself down with an 
easy, simple motion of his entire body, lowered his face 
to a quiet pool he had found, and drank his fill of the 
cool, refreshing liquid. But, though unaware of the fact, 
he did not drink. He lapped. 

Then, crouching where he was, he ate the meat and 
sugar from his pockets, lapped more water, moved back a 
short distance again into the dry ground beneath the trees, 
but moved this time without rising to his feet, curled his 
body into a comfortable position and closed his eyes again 
to sleep. . . . No single question now raised its head in 
him. He felt contentment, satisfaction only. . . . 

He stirred, shook himself, opened half an eye and saw, 
as he had felt already in slumber, that he was not alone. 



THE VALLEY OF THE BEASTS 383 

In the park-like spaces in front of him, as in the shadowed 
fringe of the trees at his back, there was sound and move- 
ment, the sound of stealthy feet, the movement of 
innumerable dark bodies. There was the pad and tread 
of animals, the stir of backs, of smooth and shaggy beasts, 
in countless numbers. Upon this host fell the light of a 
half moon sailing high in a cloudless sky ; the gleam of 
stars, sparkling in the clear night air like diamonds, shone 
reflected in hundreds of ever-shifting eyes, most of them 
but a few feet above the ground. The whole valley was 
alive. 

He sat upon his haunches, staring, staring, but staring 
in wonder, not in fear, though the foremost of the great 
host were so near that he could have stretched an arm and 
touched them. It was an ever-moving, ever-shifting 
throng he gazed at, spell-bound, in the pale light of moon 
and stars, now fading slowly towards the approaching 
dawn. And the smell of the forest itself was not sweeter 
to him in that moment than the mingled perfume, raw, 
pungent, acrid, of this furry host of beautiful wild animals 
that moved like a sea, with a strange murmuring, too, like 
sea, as the myriad feet and bodies passed to and fro together. 
Nor was the gleam of the starry, phosphorescent eyes less 
pleasantly friendly than those happy lamps that light 
home-lost wanderers to cosy rooms and safety. Through 
the wild army, in a word, poured to him the deep comfort 
of. the entire valley, a comfort which held both the sweet- 
ness of invitation and the welcome of some magical home- 
coming. 

No thoughts came to him, but feeling rose in a tide of 
wonder and acceptance. He was in his rightful place. 
His nature had come home. There was this dim, vague 
consciousness in him that after long, futile straying in 
another place where uncongenial conditions had forced him 



384 STRANGE STORIES 

to be unnatural and therefore terrible, be had returned at 
last where he belonged. Here, in the Valley of the Beasts, 
he had found peace, security and happiness. He would 
be — be was at last — himself. 

It was a marvellous, even a magical, scene he watched, 
his nerves at highest tension yet quite steady, his senses 
exquisitely alert, yet no uneasiness in the full, accurate 
reports they furnished. Strong as some deep flood-tide, 
yet dim, as with untold time and distance, rose over him 
the spell of long-forgotten memory of a state where he 
was content and happy, where he was natural. The out- 
lines, as it were, of mighty, primitive pictures, flashed 
before him, yet were gone again before the detail was 
filled in. 

He watched the great army of the animals, they were 
all about him now ; he crouched upon his haunches in the 
centre of an ever-moving circle of wild forest life. Great 
timber wolves he saw pass to and fro, loping past him 
with long stride and graceful swing ; their red tongues 
lolling out ; they swarmed in hundreds. Behind, yet 
mingling freely with them, rolled the huge grizzlies, not 
clumsy as their uncouth bodies promised, but swiftly, 
lightly, easily, their half tumbling gait masking agility 
and speed. They gambolled, sometimes they rose and 
stood half upright, they were comely in their mass and 
power, they rolled past him so close that he could touch 
them. And the black bear and the brown went with them, 
bears beyond counting, monsters and little ones, a splendid 
multitude. Beyond them, yet only a little further back, 
where the park-like spaces made free movement easier, 
rose a sea of horns and antlers like a miniature forest 
in the silvery moonlight. The immense tribe of deer 
gathered in vast throngs beneath the starlit sky. Moose 
and caribou, be saw, the mighty wapiti, and the smaller 



THE VALLEY OF THE BEASTS 385 

deer in their crowding thousands. He heard the sound of 
meeting horns, the tread of innumerable hoofs, the occa- 
sional pawing of the ground as the bigger creatures 
manoeuvred for more space about them. A wolf, he saw, 
was licking gently at the shoulder of a great bull-moose 
that had been injured. And the tide receded, advanced 
again, once more receded, rising and falling like a living 
sea whose waves were animal shapes, the inhabitants of 
the Valley of the Beasts. 

Beneath the quiet moonlight they swayed to and fro 
before him. They watched him, knew him, recognized 
him. They made him welcome. 

He was aware, moreover, of a world of smaller life that 
formed an under-sea, as it were, numerous under-currents 
rather, running in and out between the great upright legs 
of the larger creatures. These, though he could not see 
them clearly, covered the earth, he was aware, in enormous 
numbers, darting hither and thither, now hiding, now 
reappearing, too intent upon their busy purposes to pay 
him attention like their huger comrades, yet ever and anon 
tumbling against his back, cannoning from his sides, 
scampering across his legs even, then gone again with a 
scuttering sound of rapid little feet, and rushing back into 
the general host beyond. And with this smaller world 
also he felt at home. 

How long he sat gazing, happy in himself, secure, 
satisfied, contented, natural, he could not say, but it was 
long enough for the desire to mingle with what he saw, 
to know closer contact, to become one with them all — 
long enough for this deep blind desire to assert itself, so 
that at length he began to move from his mossy seat 
towards them, to move, moreover, as they moved, and not 
upright on two feet. 

The moon was lower now, just sinking behind a towering 

N* 



386 STRANGE STORIES 

cedar whose ragged crest broke its light into silvery spray. 
The stars were a little paler too. A line of faint red was 
visible beyond the heights at the valley's eastern end. 

He paused and looked about him, as he advanced 
slowly, aware that the host already made an opening in 
their ranks and that the bear even nosed the earth in front, 
as though to show the way that was easiest for him to 
follow. Then, suddenly, a lynx leaped past him into the 
low branches of a hemlock, and he lifted his head to 
admire its perfect poise. He saw in the same instant the 
arrival of the birds, the army of the eagles, hawks and 
buzzards, birds of prey — the awakening flight that just 
precedes the dawn. He saw the flocks and streaming 
lines, hiding the whitening stars a moment as they passed 
with a prodigious whirr of wings. There came the hooting 
of an owl from the tree immediately overhead where the 
lynx now crouched, but not maliciously, along its branch. 

He started. He half rose to an upright position. He 
knew not why he did so, knew not exactly why he started. 
But in the attempt to find his new, and, as it now seemed, 
his unaccustomed balance, one hand fell against his side 
and came in contact with a hard straight thing that pro- 
jected awkwardly from his clothing. He pulled it out, 
feeling it all over with his fingers. It was a little stick. 
He raised it nearer to his eyes, examined it in the light of 
dawn now growing swiftly, remembered, or half remembered 
what it was — and stood stock still. 

" The totem stick," he mumbled to himself, yet audibly, 
finding his speech, and finding another thing — a glint 
of peering memory — for the first time since entering the 
valley. 

A shock like fire ran through his body ; he straightened 
himself, aware that a moment before he had been crawling 
upon his hands and knees ; it seemed that something 



THE VALLEY OF THE BEASTS 387 

broke in his brain, lifting a veil, flinging a shutter free. 
And Memory peered dreadfully through the widening gap. 

" I'm — I'm Grimwood," his voice uttered, though below 
his breath. " Tooshalli's left me. I'm alone . . . ! " 

He was aware of a sudden change in the animals sur- 
rounding him. A big, grey wolf sat three feet away, glaring 
into his face ; at its side an enormous grizzly swayed itself 
from one foot to the other ; behind it, as if looking over 
its shoulder, loomed a gigantic wapiti, its horns merged 
in the shadows of the drooping cedar boughs. But the 
northern dawn was nearer, the sun already close to the 
horizon. He saw details with sharp distinctness now. 
The great bear rose, balancing a moment on its massive 
hind-quarters, then took a step towards him, its front 
paws spread like arms. Its wicked head lolled horribly, 
as a huge bull-moose, lowering its horns as if about to 
charge, came up with a couple of long strides and joined 
it. A sudden excitement ran quivering over the entire 
host ; the distant ranks moved in a new, unpleasant way ; 
a thousand heads were lifted, ears were pricked, a forest 
of ugly muzzles pointed up to the wind. 

And the Englishman, beside himself suddenly with a 
sense of ultimate terror that saw no possible escape, 
stiffened and stood rigid. The horror of his position 
petrified him. Motionless and silent he faced the awful 
army of his enemies, while the white light of breaking day 
added fresh ghastliness to the scene which was the setting 
for his cruel death in the Valley of the Beasts. 

Above him crouched the hideous lynx, ready to spring 
the instant he sought safety in the tree ; above it again, 
he was aware of a thousand talons of steel, fierce hooked 
beaks of iron, and the angry beating of prodigious wings. 

He reeled, for the grizzly touched his body with its 
outstretched paw ; the wolf crouched just before its deadly 



388 STRANGE STORIES 

spring; in another second he would have been torn to 
pieces, crushed, devoured, when terror, operating naturally 
as ever, released the muscles of his throat and tongue. 
He shouted with what he believed was his last breath on 
earth. He called aloud in his frenzy. It was a prayer to 
whatever gods there be, it was an anguished cry for help 
to heaven. 

" Ishtot ! Great Ishtot, help me ! " his voice rang 
out, while his hand still clutched the forgotten totem 
stick. 

And the Red Heaven heard him. 

Grim wood that same instant was aware of a presence 
that, but for his terror of the beasts, must have frightened 
him into sheer unconsciousness. A gigantic Red Indian 
stood before him. Yet, while the figure rose close in 
front of him, causing the birds to settle and the wild 
animals to crouch quietly where they stood, it rose also 
from a great distance, for it seemed to fill the entire valley 
with its influence, its power, its amazing majesty. In 
some way, moreover, that he could not understand, its 
vast appearance included the actual valley itself with all 
its trees, its running streams, its open spaces and its rocky 
bluffs. These marked its outline, as it were, the outline 
of a superhuman shape. There was a mighty bow, there 
was a quiver of enormous arrows, there was this Redskin 
figure to whom they belonged. 

Yet the appearance, the outline, the face and figure too 
— these were the valley ; and when the voice became 
audible, it was the valley itself that uttered the appalling 
words. It was the voice of trees and wind, and of running, 
falling water that woke the echoes in the Valley of the 
Beasts, as, in that same moment, the sun topped the ridge 
and filled the scene, the outline of the majestic figure too, 
with a flood of dazzling light : 



THE VALLEY OF THE BEASTS 389 

" You have shed blood in this my valley. . . . I will 
not save ....'" 

The figure melted away into the sunlit forest, merging 
with the new-born day. But Grimwood saw close against 
his face the shining teeth, hot fetid breath passed over 
his cheeks, a power enveloped his whole body as though 
a mountain crushed him. He closed his eyes. He fell. 
A sharp, crackling sound passed through his brain, but 
already uncoscious, he did not hear it. 

His eyes opened again, and the first thing they took in 
was — fire., He shrank back instinctively. 

" It's all right, old man. We'll bring you round. 
Nothing to be frightened about." He saw the face of 
Iredale looking down into his own. Behind Iredale stood 
Tooshalli. His face was swollen. Grimwood remembered 
the blow. The big man began to cry. 

" Painful still, is it ? " Iredale said sympathetically. 
" Here, swallow a little more of this. It'll set you right 
in no time." 

Grimwood gulped down the spirit. He made a violent 
effort to control himself, but was unable to keep the tears 
back. He felt no pain. It was his heart that ached, 
though why or wherefore, he had no idea. 

" I'm all to pieces," he mumbled, ashamed yet somehow 
not ashamed. "My nerves are rotten. What's hap- 
pened ? " There was as yet no memory in him. 

" You've been hugged by a bear, old man. But no 
bones broken. Tooshalli saved you. He fired in the nick 
of time — a brave shot, for he might easily have hit you 
instead of the brute." 

" The other brute," whispered Grimwood, as the whisky 
worked in him and memory came slowly back. 

" Where are we f " he asked presently, looking about him. 



390 STRANGE STORIES 

He saw a lake, canoes drawn up on the shore, two tents, 
and figures moving. Iredale explained matters briefly, 
then left him to sleep a bit. Tooshalli, it appeared, 
travelling without rest, had reached Iredale's camping 
ground twenty-four hours after leaving his employer. 
He found it deserted, Iredale and his Indian being on the 
hunt. When they returned at nightfall, he had explained 
his presence in his brief native fashion : " He struck me 
and I quit. He hunt now alone in Ishtot's Valley of the 
Beasts. He is dead, I think. I come to tell you." 

Iredale and his guide, with Tooshalli as leader, started 
off then and there, but Grimwood had covered a con- 
siderable distance, though leaving an easy track to follow. 
It was the moose tracks and the blood that chiefly guided 
them. They came up with him suddenly enough — in the 
.grip of an enormous bear. 

It was Tooshalli that fired. 

The Indian lives now in easy circumstances, all his 
needs cared for, while Grimwood, his benefactor but no 
longer his employer, has given up hunting. He is a quiet, 
easy-tempered, almost gentle sort of fellow, and people 
wonder rather why he hasn't married. " Just the fellow 
to make a good father," is what they say; "so kind, 
good-natured and affectionate." Among his pipes, in a 
glass case over the mantelpiece, hangs a totem stick. He 
declares it saved his soul, but what he means by the 
expression he has never quite explained. 



THE DECOY 

IT belonged to the category of unlovely houses about 
which an ugly superstition clings, one reason being, 
perhaps, its inability to inspire interest in itself without 
assistance. It seemed too ordinary to possess individuality, 
much less to exert an influence. Solid and ungainly, its 
huge bulk dwarfing the park timber, its best claim to notice 
was a negative one — it was unpretentious. 

From the little hill its expressionless windows stared 
across the Kentish Weald, indifferent to weather, dreary 
in winter, bleak in spring, unblessed in summer. Some 
colossal hand had tossed it down, then let it starve to 
death, a country mansion that might well strain the 
adjectives of advertisers and find inheritors with difficulty. 
Its soul had fled, said some ; it had committed suicide, 
thought others ; and it was an inheritor, before he killed 
himself in the library, who thought this latter, yielding, 
apparently, to an hereditary taint in the family. For two 
other inheritors followed suit, with an interval of twenty 
years between them, and there was no clear reason to 
explain the three disasters. Only the first owner, indeed, 
lived permanently in the house, the others using it in the 
summer months and then deserting it with relief. Hence, 
when John Burley, present inheritor, assumed possession, 
he entered a house about which clung an ugly superstition, 
based, nevertheless, upon a series of undeniably ugly 

facts. 

This century deals harshly with superstitious folk, 
deeming them fools or charlatans ; but John Burley, 

391 



392 " STRANGE STORIES 

robust, contemptuous of half lights, did not deal harshly 
with them, because he did not deal with them at all. He 
was hardly aware of their existence. He ignored them as 
he ignored, say, the Esquimaux, poets, and other human 
aspects that did not touch his scheme of life. A successful 
business man, he concentrated on what was real ; he dealt 
with business people. His philanthropy, on a big scale, 
was also real ; yet, though he would have denied it vehe- 
mently, he had his superstition as well. No man exists 
without some taint of superstition in his blood ; the racial 
heritage is too rich to be escaped entirely. Burley's took 
this form — that unless he gave his tithe to the poor he would 
not prosper. This ugly mansion, he decided, would make 
an ideal Convalescent Home. 

" Only cowards or lunatics kill themselves," he declared 
flatly, when his use of the house was criticised. " I'm 
neither one nor t'other." He let out his gusty, boisterous 
laugh. In his invigorating atmosphere such weakness 
seemed contemptible, just as superstition in his presence 
seemed feeblest ignorance. Even its picturesqueness 
faded. "I can't conceive," he boomed, "can't even 
imagine to myself," he added emphatically, " the state of 
mind in which a man can think of suicide, much less do it." 
He threw his chest out with a challenging air. " I tell you, 
Nancy, it's either cowardice or mania. And I've no use for 
either." 

Yet he was easy-going and good-humoured in his denun- 
ciation. He admitted his limitations with a hearty laugh 
his wife called noisy. Thus he made allowances for the 
fairy fears of sailorfolk, and had even been known to 
mention haunted ships his companies owned. But he did 
so in the terms of tonnage and £ s. d. His scope was big ; 
details were made for clerks. 

His consent to pass a night in the mansion was the 



THE DECOY 393 

consent of a practical business man and philanthropist who 
dealt condescendingly with foolish human nature. It was 
based on the common-sense of tonnage and I s. d. The 
local newspapers had revived the silly story of the suicides, 
calling attention to the effect of the superstition upon the 
fortunes of the house, and so, possibly, upon the fortunes of 
its present owner. But the mansion, otherwise a white 
elephant, was precisely ideal for his purpose, and so trivial a 
matter as spending a night in it should not stand in the 
way. " We must take people as we find them, Nancy." 

His young wife had her motive, of course, in making the 
proposal, and, if she was amused by what she called " spook- 
hunting," he saw no reason to refuse her the indulgence. 
He loved her, and took her as he found her — late in life. 
To allay the superstitions of prospective staff and patients 
and supporters, all, in fact, whose goodwill was necessary to 
success, he faced this boredom of a night in the building 
before its opening was announced. " You see, John, if you, 
the owner, do this, it will nip damaging talk in the bud. 
If anything went wrong later it would only be put down to 
this suicide idea, this haunting influence. The Home will 
have a bad name from the start. There'll be endless 
trouble. It will be a failure." 

" You think my spending a night there will stop the 
nonsense ? " he inquired. 

" According to the old legend it breaks the spell," she 
replied. " That's the condition, anyhow." 

" But somebody's sure to die there sooner or later," he 
objected. " We can't prevent that." 

" We can prevent people whispering that they died 
unnaturally." She explained the working of the public 
mind. 

" I see," he replied, his lip curling, yet quick to gauge 
the truth of what she told him about collective instinct. 



394 STRANGE STORIES 

" Unless you take poison in the hall," she added laugh- 
ingly, " or elect to hang yourself with your braces from the 
hat peg." 

" I'll do it," he agreed, after a moment's thought. 
" I'll sit up with you. It will be like a honeymoon over 
again, you and I on the spree — eh ? " He was even 
interested now ; the boyish side of him was touched 
perhaps ; but his enthusiasm was less when she explained 
that three was a better number than two on such an 
expedition. 

" I've often done it before, John. We were always 
three." 

" Who ? " he asked bluntly. He looked wonderingly at 
her, but she answered that if anything went wrong a party 
of three provided a better margin for help. It was suffi- 
ciently obvious. He listened and agreed. " I'll get young 
Mortimer," he suggested. " Will he do ? " 

She hesitated. " Well— he's cheery ; he'll be interested, 
too. Yes, he's as good as another." She seemed indifferent. 
" And he'll make the time pass with his stories," added 
her husband. 

So Captain Mortimer, late officer on a T.B.D., a " cheery 
lad," afraid of nothing, cousin of Mrs. Burley, and now 
filling a good post in the company's London offices, was 
engaged as third hand in the expedition. But Captain 
Mortimer was young and ardent, and Mrs. Burley was young 
and pretty and ill-mated, and John Burley was a neglectful 
and self-satisfied husband. 

Fate laid the trap with cunning, and John Burley, 
blind-eyed, careless of detail, floundered into it. He also 
floundered out again, though in a fashion none could have 
expected of him. 

The night agreed upon eventually was as near to the 
shortest in the year as John Burley could contrive — June 



THE DECOY 395 

1 8th — when the sun set at 8.18 and rose about a quarter to 
four. There would be barely three hours of true darkness. 
" You're the expert," he admitted, as she explained that 
sitting through the actual darkness only was required, not 
necessarily from sunset to sunrise. " We'll do the thing 
properly. Mortimer's not very keen, he had a dance or 
something," he added, noticing the look of annoyance that 
flashed swiftly in her eyes ; " but he got out tf it. He's 
coming." The pouting expression of the spoilt woman 
amused him. " Oh, no, he didn't need much persuading 
really," he assured her. " Some girl or other, of course. 
He's young, remember." To which no comment was forth- 
coming, though the implied comparison made her flush. 

They motored from South Audley Street after an early 
tea, in due course passing Sevenoaks and entering the 
Kentish Weald ; and, in order that the necessary advertise- 
ment should be given, the chauffeur, warned strictly to 
keep their purpose quiet, was to put up at the country inn 
and fetch them an hour after sunrise ; they would breakfast 
in London. " He'll tell everybody," said his practical and 
cynical master ; " the local newspaper will have it all next 
day. A few hours' discomfort is worth while if it ends the 
nonsense. We'll read and smoke, and Mortimer shall tell 
us yarns about the sea." He went with the driver into the 
house to superintend the arrangement of the room, the 
lights, the hampers of food, and so forth, leaving the pair 
upon the lawn. 

" Four hours isn't much, but it's something," whispered 
Mortimer, alone with her for the first time since they 
started. " It's simply ripping of you to have got me in. 
You look divine to-night. You're the most wonderful 
woman in the world." His blue eyes shone with the 
hungry desire he mistook for love. He looked as if he had 
blown in from the sea, for his skin was tanned and his light 



39 6 STRANGE STORIES 

hair bleached a little by the sun. He took her hand, 
drawing her out of the slanting sunlight towards the 
rhododendrons. 

" I didn't, you silly boy. It was John suggested your 
coming." She released her hand with an affected effort. 
" Besides, you overdid it — pretending you had a dance." 

" You could have objected," he said eagerly, " and 
didn't. Oh, you're too lovely, you're delicious ! " He 
kissed her suddenly with passion. There was a tiny 
struggle, in which she yielded too easily, he thought. 

" Harry, you're an idiot ! " she cried breathlessly, when 
he let her go. " I really don't know how you dare ! And 
John's your friend. Besides, you know"— she glanced 
round quickly— " it isn't safe here." Her eyes shone 
happily, her cheeks were flaming. She looked what she 
was, a pretty, young, lustful animal, false to ideals, true to 
selfish passion only. " Luckily," she added, " he trusts me 
too fully to think anything." 

The young man, worship in his eyes, laughed gaily. 
"There's no harm in a kiss," he said. " You're a child to 
him, he never thinks of you as a woman. Anyhow, his 
head's full of ships and kings and sealing-wax," be com- 
forted her, while respecting her sudden instinct which 
warned him not to touch her again, " and he never sees 

anything. Why, even at ten yards " 

From twenty yards away a big voice interrupted him, as 
John Burley came round a corner of the house and across 
the lawn towards them. The chauffeur, he announced, 
had left the hampers in the room on the first floor and gone 
back to the inn. " Let's take a walk round," he added, 
joining them, " and see the garden. Five minutes before 
sunset we'll go in and feed." He laughed. " We must do 
the thing faithfully, you know, mustn't we, Nancy ? 
Dark to dark, remember. Come on, Mortimer " — he took 



THE DECOY 397 

the young man's arm — " a last look round before we go in 
and hang ourselves from adjoining hooks in the matron's 
room ! " He reached out his free hand towards his wife. 

" Oh, hush, John ! " she said quickly. " I don't like- 
especially now the dusk is coming. " She shivered, as 
though it were a genuine little shiver, pursing her lips 
deliciously as she did so ; whereupon he drew her forcibly 
to him, saying he was sorry, and kissed her exactly where 
she had been kissed two minutes before, while young 
Mortimer looked on. " We'll take care of you between 
us," he said. Behind a broad back the pair exchanged a 
swift but meaning glance, for there was that in his tone 
which enjoined wariness, and perhaps after all he was not so 
blind as he appeared. They had their code, these two. 
" All's well," was signalled ; " but another time be more 
careful ! " 

There still remained some minutes' sunlight before the 
huge red ball of fire would sink behind the wooded hills, 
and the trio, talking idly, a flutter of excitement in two 
hearts certainly, walked among the roses. It was a perfect 
evening, windless, perfumed, warm. Headless shadows 
preceded them gigantically across the lawn as they moved, 
and one side of the great building lay already dark ; bats 
were flitting, moths darted to and fro above the azalea and 
rhododendron clumps. The talk turned chiefly on the uses 
of the mansion as a Convalescent Home, its probable 
running cost, suitable staff, and so forth. 

" Come along," John Burley said presently, breaking off 
and turning abruptly, " we must be inside, actually inside, 
before the sun's gone. We must fulfil the conditions 
faithfully," he repeated, as though fond of the phrase. He 
was in earnest over everything in life, big or little, once he 
set his hand to it. 

They entered, this incongruous trio of ghost-hunters, no 



39« STRANGE STORIES 

one of them really intent upon the business in hand, and 
went slowly upstairs to the great room where the hampers 
lay. Already in the hall it was dark enough for three 
electric torches to flash usefully and help their steps as they 
moved with caution, lighting one corner after another. 
The air inside was chill and damp. " Like an unused 
museum," said Mortimer. " I can smell the specimens." 
They looked about them, sniffing. "That's humanity," 
declared his host, employer, friend, "with cement and 
whitewash to flavour it " ; and all three laughed as Mrs. 
Burley said she wished they had picked some roses and 
brought them in. Her husband was again in front on the 
broad staircase, Mortimer just behind him, whn she called 
out. " I don't like being last," she exclaimed. " It's so 
black behind me in the hall. I'll come between you two," 
and the sailor took her outstretched hand, squeezing it, as 
he passed her up. " There's a figure, remember," she said 
hurriedly, turning to gain her husband's attention, as when 
she touched wood at home. " A figure is seen ; that's part 
of the story. The figure of a man." She gave a. tiny 
shiver of pleasurable, half-imagined alarm as she took his arm. 

" I hope we shall see it," he mentioned prosaically. 

" I hope we shan't," she replied with emphasis. " It's 
only seen before — something happens." Her husband said 
nothing, while Mortimer remarked facetiously that it would 
be a pity if they had their trouble for nothing. " Some- 
thing can hardly happen to all three of us," he said lightly, 
as they entered a large room where the paper-hangers had 
conveniently left a rough table of bare planks. Mrs. 
Burley, busy with her own thoughts, began to unpack the 
sandwiches and wine. Her husband strolled over to the 
window. He seemed restless. 

" So this," his deep voice startled her, " is where one of 
us " — he looked round him — " is to " 



THE DECOY 399 

" John ! " She stopped him sharply, with impatience. 
" Several times already I've begged you." Her voice rang 
rather shrill and querulous in the empty room, a new note 
in it. She was beginning to feel the atmosphere of the 
place, perhaps. On the sunny lawn it had not touched her, 
but now, with the fall of night, she was aware of it, as 
shadow called to shadow and the kingdom of darkness 
gathered power. Like a great whispering gallery, the 
whole house listened. 

" Upon my word, Nancy," he said with contrition, as he 
came and sat down beside her, " I quite forgot again. 
Only I cannot take it seriously. It's so utterly unthinkable 
to me that a man " 

" But why evoke the idea at all ? " she insisted in a 
lowered voice, that snapped despite its faintness. " Men 
after all, don't do such things for nothing." 

" We don't know everything in the universe, do we ? " 
Mortimer put in, trying clumsily to support her. " All I 
know just now is that I'm famished and this veal and ham 
pie is delicious." He was very busy with his knife and 
fork. His foot rested lightly on her own beneath the table ; 
he could not keep his eyes off her face ; he was continually 
passing new edibles to her. 

" No," agreed John Burley, " not everything. You're 
right there." 

She kicked the younger man gently, flashing a warning 
with her eyes as well, while her husband, emptying his glass, 
his head thrown back, looked straight at them over the rim, 
apparently seeing nothing. They smoked their cigarettes 
round the table, Burley lighting a big cigar. " Tell us 
about the figure, Nancy ? " he inquired. " At least there's 
no harm in that. It's new to me. I hadn't heard about a 
figure." And she did so willingly, turning her chair side- 
ways from the dangerous, reckless feet. Mortimer could 



4°o STRANGE STORIES 

now no longer touch her. " I know very little," she 
confessed ; " only what the paper said. It's a man. . . . 
And be changes." 

" How changes ? " asked her husband. " Clothes, you 
mean, or what ? " 

Mrs. Burley laughed, as though she was glad to laugh. 
Then she answered : " According to the story, he shows 
himself each time to the man " 

" The man who ? " 

" Yes, yes, of course. He appears to the man who dies — 
as himself." 

" H'm," grunted her husband, naturally puzzled. He 
stared at her. 

" Each time the chap saw his own double " — Mortimer 
came this time usefully to the rescue — " before he did 
it." 

Considerable explanation followed, involving much 
psychic jargon from Mrs. Burley, which fascinated and 
impressed the sailor, who thought her as wonderful as she 
was lovely, showing it in his eyes for all to see. John 
Burley's attention wandered. He moved over to the 
window, leaving them to finish the discussion between 
them ; he took no part in it, made no comment even, 
merely listening idly and watching them with an air of 
absent-mindedness through the cloud of cigar smoke round 
his head. He moved from window to window, ensconcing 
himself in turn in each deep embrasure, examining the 
fastenings, measuring the thickness of the stonework with 
his handkerchief. He seemed restless, bored, obviously 
out of place in this ridiculous expedition. On his big 
massive face lay a quiet, resigned expression his wife had 
never seen before. She noticed it now as, the discussion 
ended, the pair tidied away the debris of dinner, lit the 
spirit lamp for coffee and laid out a supper which would be 



THE DECOY 401 

very welcome with the dawn. A draught passed through 
the room, making the papers nutter on the table. Mortimer 
turned down the smoking lamps with care, 

"Wind's getting up a bit — from the south," observed 
Burley from his niche, closing one-half of the casement 
window as he said it. To do this, he turned his back a 
moment, fumbling for several seconds with the latch, while 
Mortimer, noting it, seized his sudden opportunity with the 
foolish abandon of his age and temperament. Neither he 
nor his victim perceived that, against the outside darkness, 
the interior of the room was plainly reflected in the window- 
pane. One reckless, the other terrified, they snatched the 
fearful joy, which might, after all, have been lengthened by 
another full half-minute, for the head they feared, followed 
by the shoulders, pushed through the side of the casement 
still open, and remained outside, taking in the night. 

" A grand air," said his deep voice, as the head drew in 
again. " I'd like to be at sea a night like this." He left the 
casement open and came across the room towards them. 
" Now," he said cheerfully, arranging a seat for himself, 
" let's get comfortable for the night. Mortimer, we expect 
stories from you without ceasing, until dawn or the ghost 
arrives. Horrible stories of chains and headless men, 
remember. Make it a night we shan't forget in a hurry." 
He produced his gust of laughter. 

They arranged their chairs, with other chairs to put their 
feet on, and Mortimer contrived a footstool by means of a 
hamper for the smallest feet ; the air grew thick with 
tobacco smoke ; eyes flashed and answered, watched 
perhaps as well ; ears listened and perhaps grew wise ; 
occasionally, as a window shook, they started and looked 
round ; there were sounds about the house from time to 
time, when the entering wind, using broken or open windows, 
set loose objects rattling. 



402 STRANGE STORIES 

But Mrs. Burley vetoed horrible stories with decision. A 
big, empty mansion, lonely in the country, and even with 
the comfort of John Burley and a lover in it, has its atmo- 
sphere. Furnished rooms are far less ghostly. This 
atmosphere now came creeping everywhere, through 
spacious halls and sighing corridors, silent, invisible, but 
all-pervading, John Burley alone impervious to it, unaware 
of its soft attack upon the nerves. It entered possibly with 
the summer night wind, but possibly it was always there. 
. . . And Mrs. Burley looked often at her husband, sitting 
near her at an angle ; the light fell on his fine strong face ; 
she felt that, though apparently so calm and quiet, he was 
really very restless ; something about bim was a little 
different ; she could not define it ; his mouth seemed set as 
with an effort ; he looked, she thought curiously to herself, 
patient and very dignified ; he was rather a dear after all. 
Why did she think the face inscrutable ? Her thoughts 
wandered vaguely, unease, discomfort among them some- 
where, while the heated blood — she had taken her share of 
wine — seethed in her. 

Burley turned to the sailor for more stories. " Sea and 
wind in them," he asked. " No horrors, remember ! " and 
Mortimer told a tale about the shortage of rooms at a 
Welsh seaside place where spare rooms fetched fabulous 
prices, and one man alone refused to let — a retired captain 
of a South Seas trader, very poor, a bit crazy apparently. 
He had two furnished rooms in his house worth twenty 
guineas a week. The rooms faced south ; he kept them full 
of flowers ; but he would not let. An explanation of his 
unworldly obstinacy was not forthcoming until Mortimer — 
they fished together — gained his confidence. " The South 
Wind lives in them," the old fellow told him. " I keep 
them free for her." 
"For her?" 



THE DECOY 403 

" It was on the South Wind my love came to me," said 
the other softly ; " and it was on the South Wind that she 



left " 

It was an odd tale to tell in such company, but he told it 
well. 

" Beautiful," thought Mrs. Burley. Aloud she said a 
quiet, " Thank you. By ' left,' I suppose he meant she 
died or ran away ? " 

John Burley looked up with a certain surprise. " We 
ask for a story," he said, " and you give us a poem." He 
laughed. " You're in love, Mortimer," he informed him, 
" and with my wife probably." 

" Of course I am, sir," replied the young man gallantly. 
" A sailor's heart, you know," while the face of the woman 
turned pink, then white. She knew her husband more 
intimately than Mortimer did, and there was something in 
his tone, his eyes, his words, she did not like. Harry was 
an idiot to choose such a tale. An irritated annoyance 
stirred in her, close upon dislike. "Anyhow, it's better 
than horrors," she said hurriedly. 

" Well," put in her husband, letting forth a minor gust 
of laughter, " it's possible, at any rate. Though one's as 
crazy as the other." His meaning was not wholly clear. 
" If a man really loved," he added in his blunt fashion, " and 
was tricked by her, I could almost conceive his " 

" Oh, don't preach, John, for Heaven's sake. You're so 
dull in the pulpit." But the interruption only served to 
emphasise the sentence which, otherwise, might have been 
passed over. 

" Could conceive his finding life so worthless," persisted 

the other, " that " He hesitated. " But there, now, 

I promised I wouldn't," he went on, laughing good- 
humouredly. Then, suddenly, as though in spite of 
himself, driven it seemed : " Still, under such conditions, 



404 STRANGE STORIES 

he might show his contempt for human nature and for life 
by " 

It was a tiny stifled scream that stopped him this time. 

" John, I hate, I loathe you, when you talk like that. 
And you've broken your word again." She was more than 
petulant ; a nervous anger sounded in her voice. It was 
the way he had said it, looking from them towards the 
window, that made her quiver. She felt him suddenly as a 
man ; she felt afraid of him. 

Her husband made no reply ; he rose and looked at his 
watch, leaning sideways towards the lamp, so that the 
expression of his face was shaded. " Two o'clock," he 
remarked. " I think I'll take a turn through the house. I 
may find a workman asleep or something. Anyhow, the 
light will soon come now." He laughed ; the expression 
of his face, his tone of voice, relieved hei momentarily. He 
went out. They heard his heavy tread echoing down the 
carpetless long corridor. 

Mortimer began at once. " Did he mean anything ? " 
he asked breathlessly. " He doesn't love you the least 
little bit, anyhow. He never did. I do. You're wasted 
on him. You belong to me." The words poured out. He 
covered her face with kisses. " Oh, I didn't mean that, " 
he caught between the kisses. 

The sailor released her, staring. " What then ? " he 
whispered. " Do you think he saw us on the lawn ? " He 
paused a moment, as she made no reply. The steps were 
audible in the distance still. " I know ! " he exclaimed 
suddenly. " It's the blessed house he feels. That's what 
it is. He doesn't like it." 

A wind sighed through the room, making the papers 
flutter ; something rattled ; and Mrs. Burley started. A 
loose end of rope swinging from the paperhanger's ladder 
caught her eye. She shivered slightly. 



THE DECOY 405 

" He's different," she replied in a low voice, nestling very 
close again, " and so restless. Didn't you notice what he 
said just now — that under certain conditions he could 
understand a man" — she hesitated — "doing it," she 
concluded, a sudden drop in her voice. " Harry," she 
looked full into his eyes, " that's not like him. He didn't 
say that for nothing." 

" Nonsense ! He's bored to tears, that's all. And the 
house is getting on your nerves, too." He kissed her 
tenderly. Then, as she responded, he drew her nearer still 
and held her passionately, mumbling incoherent words, 
among which " nothing to be afraid of " was distinguishable. 
Meanwhile, the steps were coming nearer. She pushed him 
away. " You must behave yourself. I insist. You 
shall, Harry," then buried herself in his arms, her face 
hidden against his neck — only to disentangle herself the 
next instant and stand clear of him. " I hate you, Harry," 
she exclaimed sharply, a look of angry annoyance flashing 
across her face. " And I hate myself. Why do you treat 

me f " She broke off as the steps came closer, patted 

her hair straight, and stalked over to the open window. 

" I believe after all you're only playing with me," he said 
viciously. He stared in surprised disappointment, watch- 
ing her. " It's him you really love," he added jealously. 
He looked and spoke like a petulant spoilt boy. 

She did not turn her head. " He's always been fair to 
me, kind and generous. He never blames me for anything. 
Give me a cigarette and don't play the stage hero. My 
nerves are on edge, to. tell you the truth." Her voice 
jarred harshly, and as he lit her cigarette he noticed that her 
lips were trembling ; his own hand trembled too. He was 
still holding the match, standing beside her at the window- 
sill, when the steps crossed the threshold and John Burley 
came into the room. He went straight up to the table and 



406 STRANGE STORIES 

turned the lamp down. " It was smoking," he remarked. 
" Didn't you see ? " 

" I'm sorry, sir," and Mortimer sprang forward, too late 
to help him. " It was the draught as you pushed the door 
open." The big man said, " Ah ! " and drew a chair over, 
facing them. " It's just the very house," he told them. 
" I've been through every room on this floor. It will make 
a splendid Home, with very little alteration, too." He 
turned round in his creaking wicker chair and looked up at 
his wife, who sat swinging her legs and smoking in the 
window embrasure. " Lives will be saved inside these eld 
walls. It's a good investment," he went on, talking rather 
to himself it seemed. " People will die here, too " 

" Hark ! " Mrs. Buriey interrupted him. " That noise 
— what is it ? " A faint thudding sound in the corridor or 
in the adjoining room was audible, making all three look 
round quickly, listening for a repetition, which did not 
come. The papers fluttered on the table, the lamps 
smoked an instant. 

" Wind," observed Burley calmly, " our little friend, the 
South Wind. Something blown over again, that's all." 
But, curiously, the three of them stood up. " I'll go and 
see," he continued. " Doors and windows are all open to 
let the paint dry." Yet he did not move ; he stood there 
watching a white moth that dashed round and round the 
lamp, flopping heavily now and again upon the bare deal 
table. 

" Let me go, sir," put in Mortimer eagerly. He was 
glad of the chance ; for the first time he, too, felt uncom- 
fortable. But there was another, who, apparently, suffered 
a discomfort greater than his own and was accordingly 
even more glad to get away. " I'll go," Mrs. Burley 
announced, with decision. " I'd like to. I haven't been 
out of this room since we came. I'm not an atom afraid." 



THE DECOY 407 

It was strange that for a moment she did not make a 
move either ; it seemed as if she waited for something. 
For perhaps fifteen seconds no one stirred or spoke. She 
knew by the look in her lover's e^es that he had now 
become aware of the slight, indefinite change in her hus- 
band's manner, and was alarmed by it. The fear in him 
woke her contempt ; she suddenly despised the youth, and 
was conscious of a new, strange yearning towards her 
husband ; against her worked nameless pressures, troubling 
her being. There was an alteration in the room, she 
thought ; something had come in. The trio stood listening 
to the gentle wind outside, waiting for the sound to be 
repeated ; two careless, passionate young lovers and a man 
stood waiting, listening, watching in that room ; yet it 
seemed there were five persons altogether and not three, for 
two guilty consciences stood apart and separate from their 
owners. John Burley broke the silence. 

" Yes, you go, Nancy. Nothing to be afraid of— there. 
It's only wind." He spoke as though he meant it. 

Mortimer bit his lips. " I'll come with you," he said 
instantly. He was confused. " Let's all three go. I 
don't think we ought to be separated." But Mrs. Burley 
was already at the door. " I insist," she said, with a 
forced laugh. "I'll call if I'm frightened," while her 
husband, saying nothing, watched her from the table. 

•' Take this," said the sailor, flashing his electric torch 
as he went over to her. " Two are better than one." He 
saw her figure exquisitely silhouetted against the black 
corridor beyond ; it was clear she wanted to go ,• any 
nervousness in her was mastered by a stronger emotion 
still ; she was glad to be out of their presence for a bit. He 
had hoped to snatch a word of explanation in the corridor, 
but her manner stopped him. Something else stopped him, 
too. 



408 STRANGE STORIES 

" First door on the left," he called out, his voice echoing 
down the empty length. " That's the room where the 
noise came from. Shout if you want us." 

He watched her moying away, the light held steadily in 
front of her, but she made no answer, and he turned back to 
see John Burley lighting his cigar at the lamp chimney, his 
face thrust forward as he did so. He stood a second, 
watching him, as the lips sucked hard at the cigar to make it 
draw ; the strength of the features was emphasised to 
sternness. He had meant to stand by the door and listen 
for the least sound from the adjoining room, but now found 
his whole attention focussed on the face above the lamp. In 
that minute he realised that Burley had wished — had 
meant — his wife to go. In that minute also he forgot his 
love, his shameless, selfish little mistress, his worthless, 
caddish little self. For John Burley looked up. He 
straightened slowly, puffing hard and quickly to make sure 
his cigar was lit, and faced him. Mortimer moved forward 
into the room, self-conscious, embarrassed, cold. 

" Of course it was only wind," he said lightly, his one 
desire being to fill the interval while they were alone with 
commonplaces. He did not wish the other to speak. 
" Dawn wind, probably." He glanced at his wrist-watch. 
" It's half-past two already, and the sun gets up at a 
quarter to four. It's light by now, I expect. The shortest 
night is never quite dark." He rambled on confusedly, for 
the other's steady, silent stare embarrassed him. A faint 
sound of Mrs. Burley moving in the next room made him 
stop a moment. He turned instinctively to the door, 
eager for an excuse to go. 

" That's nothing," said Burley, speaking at last and in 
a firm quiet voice. " Only my wife, glad to be alone — my 
young and pretty wife. She's all right. I know her better 
than you do. Come in and shut the door." 



THE DECOY +O o 

Mortimer obeyed. He closed the door and came close to 
the table, facing the other, who at once continued. 

" If I thought," be said, in that quiet deep voice, " that 
you two were serious "—he uttered his words very slowly, 
with emphasis, with intense severity — " do you know what 
I should do ? I will tell you, Mortimer. I should like 
one of us two — you or myself— to remain in this house, 
dead." 

His teeth gripped his cigar tightly; his hands were 
clenched ; he went on through a half-closed mouth. His 
eyes blazed steadily. 

" I trust her so absolutely — understand me ? — that my 
belief in women, in human beings, would go. And with 
it the desire to live. Understand me ? " 

Each word to the young careless fool was a blow in the 
face, yet it was the softest blow, the flash of a big deep 
heart, that hurt the most. A dozen answers — denial, 
explanation, confession, taking all guilt upon himself— 
crowded his mind, only to be dismissed. He stood motion- 
less and silent, staring hard into the other's eyes. No word 
passed his lips ; there was no time in any case. It was in 
this position that Mrs. Burley, entering at that moment, 
found them. She saw her husband's face ; the other man 
stood with his back to her. She came in with a little 
nervous laugh. " A bell-rope swinging in the wind and 
hitting a sheet of metal before the fireplace," she informed 
them. And all three laughed together then, though each 
laugh had a different sound. " But I hate this house," she 
added. " I wish we had never come." 

" The moment there's light in the sky, " remarked her 
husband quietly, "we can leave. That's the contract; 
let's see it through. Another half-hour will do it. Sit 
down, Nancy, and have a bite of something." He got up 
and placed a chair for her. " I think I'll take another look 



4 io STRANGE STORIES 

round." He moved slowly to the door. " I may go out on 
to the lawn a bit and see what the sky is doing." 

It did not take half a minute to say the words, yet to 
Mortimer it seemed as though the voice would never end. 
His mind was confused and troubled. He loathed himself, 
he loathed the woman through whom he had got into this 
awkward mess. 

The situation had suddenly become extremely painful ; 
he had never imagined such a thing ; the man he had 
thought blind had after all seen everything — known it all 
along, watched them, waited. And the woman, he was 
now certain, loved her husband ; she had fooled him, 
Mortimer, all along, amusing herself. 

" I'll come with you, sir. Do let me," he said suddenly. 
Mrs. Burley stood pale and uncertain between them. She 
looked scared. What has happened, she was clearly 
wondering. 

" No, no, Harry "—he called him " Harry " for the first 
time — " I'll be back in five minutes at most — My wife 
mustn't be alone either." And he went out. 

The young man waited till the footsteps sounded some 
distance down the corridor, then turned but he did not 
move forward ; for the first time he let pass unused what 
he called " an opportunity." His passion had left him ; 
his love, as he once thought it, was gone. He looked at 
the pretty woman near him, wondering blankly what he 
had ever seen there to attract him so wildly. He wished 
to Heaven he was out of it all. He wished he were dead. 
John Burley's words suddenly appalled him. 

One thing he saw plainly — she was frightened. This 
opened his lips. 

" What's the matter ? " he asked, and his hushed voice 
shirked the familiar Christian name. " Did you see any- 
thing ? " He nodded his head in the direction of the 



THE DECOY 411 

adjoining room. It was the sound of his own voice address- 
ing her coldly that made him abruptly see himself as he 
really was, but it was her reply, honestly given, in a faint 
even voice, that told him she saw her own self too with 
similar clarity. God, he thought, how revealing a tone, a 
single word can be ! 

"I saw— nothing. Only I feel uneasy— dear." That 
" dear " was a call for help. 

" Look here," he cried, so loud that she held up a warning 
finger, " I'm— I've been a damned fool, a cad ! I'm most 
frightfully ashamed. I'll do anything — anything to get it 
right." He felt cold, naked, his worthlessness laid bare ; 
she felt, he knew, the same. Each revolted suddenly from 
the other. Yet he knew not quite how or wherefore this 
great change had thus abruptly come about, especially on 
her side. He felt that a bigger, deeper emotion than 
he could understand was working on them, making 
mere physical relationships seem empty, trivial, cheap 
and vulgar. His cold increased in face of this utter 
ignorance. 

" Uneasy ? " he repeated, perhaps hardly knowing 
exactly why he said it. " Good Lord, but he can take care 

of himself " 

" Oh, he is a man," she interrupted ; " yes." 
Steps were heard, firm, heavy steps, coming back along 
the corridor. It seemed to Mortimer that he had listened 
to this sound of steps all night, and would listen to them till 
he died. He crossed to the lamp and lit a cigarette, 
carefully this time, turning the wick down afterwards. 
Mrs. Burley also rose, moving over towards the door, away 
from him. They listened a moment to these firm and heavy 
steps, the tread of a man, John Burley. A man . . . and a 
philanderer, flashed across Mortimer's brain like fire, 
contrasting the two with fierce contempt for himself. The 



412 STRANGE STORIES 

tread became less audible. There was distance in it. It 
had turned in somewhere. 

" There ! " she exclaimed in a hushed tone. " He's gone 
in." 

" Nonsense ! It passed us. He's going out on to the 
lawn." 

The pair listened breathlessly for a moment, when the 
sound of steps came distinctly from the adjoining room, 
-walking across the boards, apparently towards the window. 

" There ! " she repeated. " He did go in. " Silence of 
perhaps a minute followed, in which they heard each other's 
breathing. " I don't like his being alone— in there," Mrs. 
Burley said in a thin faltering voice, and moved as though 
to go out. Her hand was already on the knob of the door, 
when Mortimer stopped her with a violent gesture. 

" Don't ! For God's sake, don't ! " he cried, before she 
-could turn it. He darted forward. As he laid a hand 
upon her arm a thud was audible through the wall. It was 
a heavy sound, and this time there was no wind to cause it. 

" It's only that loose swinging thing," he whispered 
thickly, a dreadful confusion blotting out clear thought and 
speech. 

" There was no loose swaying thing at all," she said in a 
failing voice, then reeled and swayed against him. " I 
invented that. There was nothing." As he caught her, 
staring helplessly, it seemed to him that a face with lifted 
lids rushed up at him. He saw two terrified eyes in a patch 
of ghastly white. Her whisper followed, as she sank into 
his arms. " It's John. He's " 

At which instant, with terror at its climax, the sound of 
steps suddenly became audible once more — the firm and 
heavy tread of John Burley coming out again into the 
corridor. Such was their amazement and relief that they 
neither moved nor spoke. The steps drew nearer. The 



THE DECOY 415 

pair seemed petrified ; Mortimer did not remove his arms,, 
nor did Mrs. Burley attempt to release herself. They stared 
at the door and waited. It was pushed wider the next 
second, and John Burley stood beside them. He was so. 
close he almost touched them — there in each other's arms. 

" Jack dear ! " cried his wife, with a searching tenderness 
that made her voice seem strange. 

He gazed a second at each in turn. " I'm going out on to- 
the lawn for a moment," he said quietly. There was no- 
expression on his face ; he did not smile, he did not frown ;, 
he showed no feeling, no emotion — just looked into their 
eyes, and then withdrew round the edge of the door before 
either could utter a word in answer. The door swung to- 
behind him. He was gone. 

" He's going to the lawn. He said so." It was Mortimer 
speaking, but his voice shook and stammered. Mrs. Burley 
had released herself. She stood now by the table, silent,, 
gazing with fixed eyes at nothing, her lips parted, her 
expression vacant. Again she was aware of an alteration 
in the room j something had gone out. ... He watched 
her for a second, uncertain what to say or do. It was the 
face of a drowned person, occurred to him. Something 
intangible, yet almost visible stood between them in that 
narrow space. Something had ended, there before his eyes,, 
definitely ended. The barrier between them rose higher,, 
denser. Through this barrier her words came to him with 
an odd whispering remoteness. 

" Harry. . . . You saw ? You noticed ? " 

" What d'you mean f " he said gruffly. He tried to feel 
angry, contemptuous, but his breath caught absurdly. 

" Harry — he was different. The eyes, the hair, the — "" 
her face grew like death — " the twist in his face " 

" What on earth are you saying ? Pull yourself to- 
gether." He saw that she was trembling down the whole 



414 STRANGE STORIES 

length of her body, as she leaned against the table for 
support. His own legs shook. He stared hard at her. 

"Altered, Harry . . . altered." Her horrified whisper 
came at him like a knife. For it was true. He, too, had 
noticed something about the husband's appearance that 
was not quite normal. Yet, even while they talked, they 
heard him going down the carpetless stairs ; the sounds 
ceased as he crossed the hall ; then came the noise of the 
front door banging, the reverberation even shaking the 
room a little where they stood. 

Mortimer went over to her side. He walked unevenly. 

" My dear ! For God's sake — this is sheer nonsense. 
Don't let yourself go like this. I'll put it straight with him 
— it's all my fault." He saw by her face that she did not 
understand his words ; he was saying the wrong thing 
altogether ; her mind was utterly elsewhere. " He's all 
right," he went on hurriedly. " He's out on the lawn 
now " 

He broke off at the sight of her. The horror that 
fastened on her brain plastered her face with deathly 
whiteness. 

" That was not John at all ! " she cried, a wail of misery 
and terror in her voice. She rushed to the window and he 
followed. To his immense relief a figure moving below was 
plainly visible. It was John Burley. They saw him in the 
faint grey of the dawn, as he crossed the lawn, going away 
from the house. He disappeared. 

" There you are ! See ? " whispered Mortimer reassur- 
ingly. " He'll be back in " when a sound in the 

adjoining room, heavier, louder than before, cut appallingly 
across his words, and Mrs. Burley, with that wailing 
scream, fell back into his arms. He caught her only just in 
time, for he stiffened into ice, daft with the uncomprehended 
terror of it all, and helpless as a child. 



THE DECOY 415 

" Darling, my darling — oh, God ! " He bent, kissing her 
face wildly. He was utterly distraught. 

" Harry ! Jack — oh, oh ! " she wailed in her anguish. 
" It took on his likeness. It deceived us ... to give him 
time. He's done it." 

She sat up suddenly. " Go," she said, pointing to the 
room beyond, then sank fainting, a dead weight in his arms. 

He carried her unconscious body to a chair, then entering 
the adjoining room he flashed his torch upon the body of 
her husband hanging from a bracket in the wall. He cut it 
down five minutes too late. 



CONFESSION 

THE fog swirled slowly round him, driven by a heavy 
movemenr of its own, for of course there was no wind. 
It hung in poisonous thick coils and loops ; "it rose and 
sank ; no light penetrated it directly from street lamp or 
motor-car, though here and there some big shop-window 
shed a glimmering patch upon its ever-shifting curtain. 

O'Reilly's eyes ached and smarted with the incessant 
effort to see a foot beyond his face. The optic nerve grew 
tired, and sight, accordingly, less accurate. He coughed as 
he shuffled forward cautiously through the choking gloom. 
Only the stifled rumble of crawling traffic persuaded him he 
was in a crowded city at all — this, and the vague outlines of 
groping figures, hugely magnified, emerging suddenly and 
disappearing again, as they fumbled along inch by 
inch towards uncertain destinations. 

The figures, however, were human beings ; they were 
real. That much he knew. He heard their muffled voices, 
now close, now distant, strangely smothered always. He 
also heard the tapping of innumerable sticks, feeling for iron 
railings or the kerb. These phantom outlines represented 
living people. He was not alone. 

It was the dread of finding himself quite alone that 
haunted him, for he was still unable to cross an open space 
without assistance. He had the physical strength, it was 
the mind that failed him. Midway the panic terror might 
descend upon him, he would shake all over, his will dissolve, 
he would shriek for help, run wildly — into the traffic 
probably — or, as they called it in his North Ontario home, 

416 



CONFESSION 417 

" throw a fit " in the street before advancing wheels. He 
was not yet entirely cured, although under ordinary 
conditions he was safe enough, as Dr. Henry had assured 
him. 

When he left Regent's Park by Tube an hour ago the air 
was clear, the November sun shone brightly, the pale blue 
sky was cloudless, and the assumption that be could 
manage the journey across London Town alone was justified. 
The following day he was to leave for Brighton for the 
week of final convalescence : this little preliminary test of 
his powers on a bright November afternoon was all to the 
good. Doctor Henry furnished minute instructions : " You 
change at Piccadilly Circus — without leaving the under- 
ground station, mind — and get out at South Kensington. 
You know the address of your V.A.D. friend. Have your 
cup of tea with her, then come back the same way to 
Regent's Park. Come back before dark — say six o'clock at 
latest. It's better." He had described exactly what turns 
to take after leaving the station, so many to the right, so 
many to the left ; it was a little confusing, but the distance 
was short. " You can always ask. You can't possibly go- 
wrong." 

The unexpected fog, however, now blurred these in- 
structions in a confused jumble in his mind. The failure of 
outer sight reacted upon memory. The V.A.D. besides 
had warned him that her address was " not easy to find the 
first time. The house lies in a backwater. But with your 
' backwoods ' instincts you'll probably manage it better 
than any Londoner ! " She, too, had not calculated upon 
the fog. 

When O'Reilly came up the stairs at South Kensington 
Station, he emerged into such murky darkness that he 
thought he was still underground. An impenetrable 
world lay round him. Only a raw bite in the damp atmo- 



4*8 STRANGE STORIES 

sphere told Mm he stood beneath an open sky. For some 
little time he stood and stared — a Canadian soldier, his 
home among clear brilliant spaces, now face to face for the 
first time in his life with that thing he had so often read 
about — a bad London fog. With keenest interest and 
surprise he " enjoyed " the novel spectacle for perhaps ten 
minutes, watching the people arrive and vanish, and 
wondering why the station lights stopped dead the instant 
they touched the street — then, with a sense of adventure — it 
cost an effort— he left the covered building and plunged into 
the opaque sea beyond. 

Repeating to himself the directions he had received — 
first to the right, second to the left, once more to the left, 
and so forth— he checked each turn, assuring himself it was 
impossible to go wrong. He made correct if slow progress, 
until someone blundered into him with an abrupt and 
startling question : " Is this right, do you know, for South 
Kensington Station ? " 

It was the suddenness that startled him ; one moment 
there was no one, the next they were face to face, another, 
and the stranger had vanished into the gloom with a 
courteous word of grateful thanks. But the little shock 
of interruption had put memory out of gear. Had he 
already turned twice to the right, or had he not ? O'Reilly 
realised sharply he had forgotten his memorised instructions 
He stood still, making strenuous efforts at recovery, but 
each effort left him more uncertain than before. Five 
minutes later he was lost as hopelessly as any townsman 
who leaves his tent in the backwoods without blazing the 
trees to ensure finding his way back again. Even the sense 
of direction, so strong in him among his native forests, was 
completely gone. There were no stars, there was no wind, 
no smell, no sound of running water. There was nothing 
anywhere to guide him, nothing but occasional dim outlines, 



CONFESSION 419 

groping, shuffling, emerging and disappearing in the 
eddying fog, but rarely coming within actual speaking, 
much less touching, distance. He was lost utterly ; more, 
he was alone. 

Yet not quite alone — the thing he dreaded most. There 
were figures still in his immediate neighbourhood. They 
emerged, vanished, reappeared, dissolved. No, he was not 
quite alone. He saw these thickenings of the fog, he heard 
their voices, the tapping of their cautious sticks, their 
shuffling feet as well. They were real. They moved, it 
seemed, about him in a circle, never coming very close. 

" But they're real," he said to himself aloud, betraying 
the weak point in his armour. " They're human beings 
right enough. I'm positive of that." 

He had never argued with Dr. Henry — he wanted to get 
well ; he had obeyed implicitly, believing everything the 
doctor told him — up to a point. But he had always had his 
own idea about these " figures," because, among them, were 
often enough his own pals from the Somme, Gallipoli, the 
Mespot horror, too. And he ought to know his own pals 
when he saw them ! At the same time he knew quite well 
he had been " shocked," his being dislocated ; half dis- 
solved as it were, his system pushed into some lopsided 
condition that meant inaccurate registration. True. He 
grasped that perfectly. But, in that shock and dislocation, 
had he not possibly picked up another gear ? Were there 
not gaps and broken edges, pieces that no longer dovetailed, 
fitted as usual, interstices, in a word ? Yes, that was the 
word — interstices. Cracks, so to speak, between his 
perception of the outside world and his inner interpretation 
of these ? Between memory and recognition ? Between 
the various states of consciousness that usually dovetailed 
so neatly that the joints were normally imperceptible ? 

His state, he well knew, was abnormal, but were his 



4 2 ° STRANGE STORIES 

symptoms on that account unreal ? Could not these 
^ interstices " be used by— others ? When he saw his 
" figures," he used to ask himself : " Are not these the real 
ones, and the others — the human beings— unreal ? " 

This question now revived in him with a new intensity. 
Were these figures in the fog real or unreal f The man 
who had asked the way to the station, was he not, after all, a 
shadow merely ? 

By the use of his cane and foot and what of sight was left 
to him he knew that he was on an island. A lamp-post 
stood up solid and straight beside him, shedding its faint 
patch of glimmering light. Yet there were railings, 
however, that puzzled him, for his stick hit the metal rods 
distinctly in a series. And there should be no railings 
round an island. Yet he had most certainly crossed a 
dreadful open space to get where he was. His confusion 
and bewilderment increased with dangerous rapidity. 
Panic was not far away. 

He was no longer on an omnibus route. A rare taxi 
crawled past occasionally, a whitish patch at the window 
indicating an anxious human face ; now and again came 
a van or cart, the driver holding a lantern as he led the 
stumbling horse. These comforted him, rare though they 
were. But it was the figures that drew his attention most. 
He was quite sure they were real. They were human 
beings like himself. 

For all that, he decided he might as well be positive on 
the point. He tried one accordingly — a big man who rose 
suddenly before him out of the very earth. 

" Can you give me the trail to Morley Place ? " he asked. 
But his question was drowned by the other's simultaneous 
inquiry in a voice much louder than his own. 

" I say, is this right for the Tube station, d'you know ? 
I'm utterly lost. I want South Ken." 



CONFESSION 421 

And by the time O'Reilly had pointed the direction 
whence he himself had just come, the man was gone again, 
obliterated, swallowed up, not so much as his footsteps 
audible, almost as if — it seemed again — he never had been 
there at all. 

This left an acute unpleasantness in him, a sense of 
bewilderment greater than before. He waited five minutes, 
not daring to move a step, then tried another figure, a 
woman this time, who, luckily, knew the immediate 
neighbourhood intimately. She gave him elaborate in- 
structions in the kindest possible way, then vanished with 
incredible swiftness and ease into the sea of gloom beyond. 
The instantaneous way she vanished was disheartening, 
upsetting : it was so uncannily abrupt and sudden. Yet 
she comforted him. Morley Place, according to her 
version, was not two hundred yards from where he stood. 
He felt his way forward, step by step, using his cane, 
crossing a giddy open space, kicking the kerb with each boot 
alternately, coughing and choking all the time as he did 
so. 

" They were real, I guess, anyway," he said aloud. 
" They were both real enough all right. And it may lift a 
bit soon ! " He was making a great effort to hold himself 
in hand. He was already fighting, that is. He realised 
this perfectly. The only point was — the reality of the 
figures. " It may lift now any minute," he repeated louder. 
In spite of the cold, his skin was sweating profusely. 

But, of course, it did not lift. The figures, too, became 
fewer. No carts were audible. He had followed the 
woman's directions carefully, but now found himself in 
some by-way, evidently, where pedestrians at the best of 
times were rare. There was dull silence all about him. 
His foot lost the kerb, his cane swept the empty air, striking 
nothing solid, and panic rose upon him with its shuddering, 



4 2 2 STRANGE STORIES 

icy grip. He was alone, he knew himself alone, worse still- 
he was in another open space. 

It took him fifteen minutes to cross that open space, most 
of the way upon his hands and knees, oblivious of the icy 
slime that stained his trousers, froze his fingers, intent only 
upon feeling solid support against his back and spine again. 
It was an endless period. The moment of collapse was 
close, the shriek already rising in his throat, the shaking of 
the whole body uncontrollable, when — his outstretched 
fingers struck a friendly kerb, and he saw a glimmering 
patch of diffused radiance overhead with a great, quick 
effort he stood upright, and an instant later his stick rattled 
along an area railing. He leaned against it, breathless, 
panting, his heart beating painfully while the street lamp 
gave him the further comfort of its feeble gleam, the actual 
flame, however, invisible. He looked this way and that ; 
the pavement was deserted. He was engulfed in the dark 
silence of the fog. 

But Morley Place, he knew, must be very close by now. 
He thought of the friendly little V.A.D. he had known in 
France, of a warm bright fire, a cup of tea and a cigarette. 
One more effort, he reflected, and all these would be his. 
He pluckily groped his way forward again, crawling slowly 
by the area railings. If things got really bad again, he 
would ring a bell and ask for help, much as he shrank from 
the idea. Provided he had no more open spaces to cross, 
provided he saw no more figures emerging and vanishing 
like creatures born of the fog and dwelling within it as 
within their native element — it was the figures he now 
dreaded more than anything else, more than even the 

loneliness — provided the panic sense 

A faint darkening of the fog beneath the next lamp 
caught his eye and made him start. He stopped. It was 
not a figure this time, it was the shadow of the pole 



CONFESSION 423 

grotesquely magnified. No, it moved. It moved towards 
him. A flame of fire followed by ice flowed through him. 
It was a figure — close against his face. It was a woman. 

The doctor's advice came suddenly back to him, the 
counsel that had cured him of a hundred phantoms : 

" Do not ignore them. Treat them as real. Speak and 
go with them. You will soon prove their unreality then. 
And they will leave you . . ." 

He made a brave, tremendous effort. He was shaking. 
One hand clutched the damp and icy area railing. 

" Lost your way like myself, haven't you, ma'am ? " he 
said in a voice that trembled. " Do you know where we 
are at all ? Morley Place I'm looking for " 

He stopped dead. The woman moved nearer and for the 
first time he saw her face clearly. Its ghastly pallor, the 
bright, frightened eyes that stared with a kind of dazed 
bewilderment into his own, the beauty above all, arrested 
his speech midway. The woman was young, her tall figure 
wrapped in a dark fur coat. 

" Can I help you ? " he asked impulsively, forgetting his 
own terror for the moment. He was more than startled. 
Her air of distress and pain stirred a peculiar anguish in 
him. For a moment she made no answer, thrusting her 
white face closer as if examining him, so close, indeed, that 
he controlled with difficulty his instinct to shrink back a little. 

" Where am I ? " she asked at length, searching his eyes 
intently. " I'm lost — I've lost myself. I can't find my 
way back." Her voice was low, a curious wailing in it that 
touched his pity oddly. He felt his own distress merging in 
one that was greater. 

" Same here," he replied more confidently. " I'm 
terrified of being alone, toe. I've had shell-shock, you 
know. Let's go together. We'll find a way together " 

" Who are you ! " the woman murmured, still staring 



4H STRANGE STORIES 

at him with her big bright eyes, their distress, however, 
no whit lessened. She gazed at him as though aware 
suddenly of his presence. 

He told her briefly. "And I'm going to tea with a 
V.A.D. friend in Morley Place. What's your address ? 
Do you know the name of the street ? " 

She appeared not to hear him, or not to understand 
exactly ; it was as if she was not listening again. 

" I came out so suddenly, so unexpectedly," he heard the 
low voice with pain in every syllable ; " I can't find my 

way home again. Just when I was expecting him too " 

She looked about her with a distraught expression that 
made O'Reilly long to carry her in his arms to safety then 
and there. " He may be there now — waiting for me at this 
very moment— and I can't get back." And so sad was her 
voice that only by an effort did O'Reilly prevent himself 
putting out his hand to touch her. More and more he 
forgot himself in his desire to help her. Her beauty, the 
wonder of her strange bright eyes in the pallid face, made an 
immense appeal. He became calmer. This woman was 
real enough. He asked again the address, the street and 
number, the distance she thought it was. " Have you any 
idea of the direction, ma'am, any idea at all ? We'll go 
together and " 

She suddenly cut him short. She turned her head as if to 
listen, so that he saw her profile a moment, the outline of the 
slender neck, a glimpse of jewels just below the fur. 

" Hark ! I hear him calling ! I remember . . . ! " 
And she was gone from his side into the swirling fog. 

Without an instant's hesitation O'Reilly followed her, 
not only because he wished to help, but because he dared 
not be left alone. The presence of this strange, lost woman 
comforted him ; he must not lose sight of her, whatever 
happened. He had to run, she went so rapidly, ever just in 



CONFESSION 425 

front, moving with confidence and certainty, turning right 
and left, crossing the street, but never stopping, never 
hesitating, her companion always at her heels in breathless 
haste, and with a growing terror that he might lose her any 
minute. The way she found her direction through the 
dense fog was marvellous enough, but O'Reilly's only 
thought was to keep her in sight, lest his own panic re- 
descend upon him with its inevitable collapse in the dark 
and lonely street. It was a wild and panting pursuit, and 
he kept her in view with difficulty, a dim fleeting outline 
always a few yards ahead of him. She did not once turn 
her head, she uttered no sound, no cry ; she hurried forward 
with unfaltering instinct. Nor did the chase occur to him 
once as singular ; she was his safety, and that was all he 
realised. 

One thing, however, he remembered afterwards, though 
at the actual time he no more than registered the detail, 
paying no attention to it — a definite perfume she left upon 
the atmosphere, one, moreover, that he knew, although he 
could not find its name as he ran. It was associated 
vaguely, for him, with something unpleasant, something 
disagreeable. He connected it with misery and pain. It 
gave him a feeling of uneasiness. More than that he did 
not notice at the moment, nor could he remember — he 
certainly did not try — where he had known this particular 
scent before. 

Then suddenly the woman stopped, opened a gate and 
passed into a small private garden — so suddenly that 
O'Reilly, close upon her heels, only just avoided tumbling 
into her. " You've found it ? " he cried. " May I come 
in a moment with you f Perhaps you'll let me telephone 
to the doctor." 

She turned instantly. Her face, close against his own, 
was livid. 



426 STRANGE STORIES 

" Doctor ! " she repeated in an awful whisper. The 
word meant terror to her. O'Reilly stood amazed. For a 
second or two neither of them moved. The woman seemed 
petrified. 

"Dr. Henry, you know," he stammered, finding his 
tongue again. " I'm in his care. He's in Harley Street." 

Her face cleared as suddenly as it had darkened, though 
the original expression of bewilderment and pain still hung 
in her great eyes. But the terror left them, as though she 
suddenly forgot some association that had revived it. 

" My home," she murmured. " My home is somewhere 
here. I'm near it. I must get back— in time— for him. I 
must. He's coming to me." And with these extra- 
ordinary words she turned, walked up the narrow path, and 
stood upon the porch of a two-storey house before her 
companion had recovered from his astonishment sufficiently 
to move or utter a syllable in reply. The front door, he 
saw, was ajar. It had been left open. 

For five seconds, perhaps for ten, he hesitated ; it was 
the fear that the doctor would close and shut him out that 
brought the decision to his will and muscles. He ran up 
the steps and followed the woman into a dark hall where 
she had already preceded him, and amid whose blackness 
she now had finally vanished. He closed the door, not 
knowing exactly why he did so, and knew at once by an 
instinctive feeling that the house he now found himself in 
with this unknown woman was empty and unoccupied. In 
a house, however, he felt safe. It was the open streets that 
were his danger. He stood waiting, listening a moment 
before he spoke ; and he heard the woman moving down 
the passage from door to door, repeating to herself in her 
low voice of unhappy wailing some words he could not 
understand : 

" Where is it ? Oh, where is it ? I must get back . . ." 



CONFESSION 427 

O'Reilly then found himself abruptly stricken with 
dumbness, as though, with these strange words, a haunting 
terror came up and breathed against him in the dark- 
ness. 

" Is she after all a figure ? " ran in letters of fire across his 
numbed brain. " Is she unreal — or real ? " 

Seeking relief in action of some kind he put out a hand 
automatically, feeling along the wall for an electric switch, 
and though he found it by some miraculous chance, no 
answering glow responded to the click. 

And the woman's voice from the darkness : " Ah ! Ah ! 
At last I've found it. I'm home again — at last . . . ! " 
He heard a door open and close upstairs. He was on the 
ground-floor now — alone. Complete silence followed. 

In the conflict of various emotions — fear for himself lest 
his panic should return, fear for the woman who had led 
him into this empty house and now deserted him upon some 
mysterious errand of her own that made him think of 
madness — in this conflict that held him a moment spell- 
bound, there was a yet bigger ingredient demanding instant 
explanation, but an explanation that he could not find. 
Was the woman real or was she unreal ? Was she a 
human being or a " figure " ? The horror of doubt 
obsessed him with an acute uneasiness that betrayed itself 
in a return of that unwelcome inner trembling he knew was 
dangerous. 

What saved him from a crise that must have had most 
dangerous results for his mind and nervous system generally, 
seems to have been the outstanding fact that he felt more 
for the woman than for himself. His sympathy and pity 
had been deeply moved ; her voice, her beauty, her anguish 
and bewilderment, all uncommon, inexplicable, mysterious, 
formed together a claim that drove self into the background. 
Added to this was the detail that she had left him, gone to 



428 STRANGE STORIES 

another floor without a word, and now, behind a closed 
door in a room upstairs, found herself face to face at last 
with the unknown object of her frantic search — with " it," 
whatever " it " might be. Real or unreal, figure or human 
being, the over-mastering impulse of his being was that he 
must go to her. 

It was this clear impulse that gave him decision and 
energy to do what he then did. He struck a match, he 
found a stump of candle, he made his way by means of this 
flickering light along the passage and up the carpetless 
stairs. He moved cautiously, stealthily, though not 
knowing why he did so. The house, he now saw, was 
indeed untenanted ; dust-sheets covered the piled-up 
furniture ; he glimpsed through doors ajar, pictures were 
screened upon the walls, brackets draped to look like 
hooded heads. He went on slowly, steadily, moving on 
tiptoe as though conscious of being watched, noting the 
well of darkness in the hall below, the grotesque shadows 
that his movements cast on walls and ceiling. The silence 
was unpleasant, yet, remembering that the woman was 
"expecting" someone, he did not wish it broken. He 
reached the landing and stood still. Closed doors on both 
sides of a corridor met his sight, as he shaded the candle to 
examine the scene. Behind which of these doors, he 
asked himself, was the woman, figure or human being, now 
alone with " it " t 

There was nothing to guide him, but an instinct that he 
must not delay sent him forward again upon his search. 
He tried a door on the right — an empty room, with the 
furniture hidden by dust-sheets, and the mattress rolled up 
on the bed. He tried a second door, leaving the first one 
open behind him, and it was, similarly, an empty bedroom. 
Coming out into the corridor again he stood a moment 
waiting, then called aloud in a low voice that yet woke 



CONFESSION 429 

echoes unpleasantly in the hall below : " Where are you I 
I want to help — which room are you in ? " 

There was no answer ; he was almost glad he heard no 
sound, for he knew quite well that he was waiting really for 
another sound — the steps of him who was " expected." 
And the idea of meeting with this unknown third sent a 
shudder through him, as though related to an interview he 
dreaded with his whole heart, and must at all costs avoid. 
Waiting another moment or two, he noted that his candle- 
stump was burning low, then crossed the landing with a 
feeling, at once of hesitation and determination, towards a 
door opposite to him. He opened it ; he did not halt on the 
threshold. Holding the candle at arm's length, he went 
boldly in. 

And instantly his nostrils told him he was right at last, 
for a whiff of the strange perfume, though this time much 
stronger than before, greeted him, sending a new quiver 
along his nerves. He knew now why it was associated with 
unpleasantness, with pain, with misery, for he recognised it 
— the odour of a hospital. In this room a powerful 
anaesthetic had been used — and recently. 

Simultaneously with smell, sight brought its message too. 
On the large double bed behind the door on his right lay, to 
his amazement, the woman in the dark fur coat. He saw 
the jewels on the slender neck ; but the eyes he did not see, 
for they were closed — closed too, he grasped at once, in 
death. The body lay stretched at full length, quite 
motionless. He approached. A dark thin streak that 
came from the parted lips and passed downwards over the 
chin, losing itself then in the fur collar, was a trickle of 
blood. It was hardly dry. It glistened. 

Strange it was perhaps that, while imaginary fears had 
the power to paralyse him, mind and body, this sight of 
something real had the effect of restoring confidence. The 



43° STRANGE STORIES 

sight of blood and death, amid conditions often ghastly and 
even monstrous, was no new thing to him. He went up 
quietly, and with steady hand he felt the woman's cheek, 
the warmth of recent life still in its softness. The final cold 
had not yet mastered this empty form whose beauty, in its 
perfect stillness, had taken on the new strange sweetness of 
an unearthly bloom. Pallid, silent, untenanted, it lay 
before him, lit by the flicker of his guttering candle. He 
lifted the fur coat to feel for the unbeating heart. A 
couple of hours ago at most, he judged, this heart was 
working busily, the breath came through those parted lips, 
the eyes were shining in full beauty. His hand encountered 
a hard knob — the head of a long steel hat-pin driven 
through the heart up to its hilt. 

He knew then which was the figure — which was the 
real and which the unreal. He knew also what had been 
meant by " it." 

But before he could think or reflect what action he must 
take, before he could straighten himself even from his bent 
position over the body on the bed, there sounded through 
the empty house below the loud clang of the front door 
being closed. And instantly rushed over him that other 
fear he had so long forgotten — fear for himself. The 
panic of his own shaken nerves descended with irresistible 
onslaught. He turned, extinguishing the candle in the 
violent trembling of his hand, and tore headlong from the 
room. 

The following ten minutes seemed a nightmare in which 
he was not master of himself and knew not exactly what 
he did. All he realized was that steps already sounded on 
the stairs, coming quickly nearer. The flicker of an 
electric torch played on the banisters, whose shadows ran 
swiftly sideways along the wall as the hand that held the 
light ascended. He thought in a frenzied second of police, 



CONFESSION 431 

of his presence in the house, of the murdered woman. It 
was a sinister combination. Whatever happened, he must 
escape without being so much as even seen. His heart 
raced madly. He darted across the landing into the room 
opposite, whose door he had luckily left open. And by 
some incredible chance, apparently, he was neither seen 
nor heard by the man who, a moment later, reached the 
landing, entered the room where the body of the woman 
lay, and closed the door carefully behind him. 

Shaking, scarcely daring to breathe lest his breath be 
audible, O'Reilly, in the grip of his own personal terror, 
remnant of his uncured shock of war, had no thought of 
what duty might demand or not demand of him. He 
thought only of himself. He realized one clear issue — that 
he must get out of the house without being heard or seen. 
Who the new-comer was he did not know, beyond an 
uncanny assurance that it was not him whom the woman 
had " expected," but the murderer himself, and that it was 
the murderer, in his turn, who was expecting this third 
person. In that room with death at his elbow, a death 
he had himself brought about but an hour or two ago, 
the murderer now hid in waiting for his second victim. 
And the door was closed. 

Yet any minute it might open again, cutting off retreat. 

O'Reilly crept out, stole across the landing, reached 
the head of the stairs, and began, with the utmost caution, 
the perilous descent. Each time the bare boards creaked 
beneath his weight, no matter how stealthily this weight 
was adjusted, his heart missed a beat. He tested each 
step before he pressed upon it, distributing as much of his 
weight as he dared upon the banisters. It was a little 
more than half-way down that, to his horror, his foot 
caught in a projecting carpet tack ; he slipped on the 
polished wood, and only saved himself from falling head- 



432 STRANGE STORIES 

long by a wild clutch at the railing, making an uproar 
that seemed to him like the explosion of a hand-grenade 
in the forgotten trenches. His nerves gave way then, and 
panic seized him. In the silence that followed the re- 
sounding echoes he heard the bedroom door opening on 
the floor above. 

Concealment was now useless. It was impossible, too. 
He took the last flight of stairs in a series of leaps, four 
steps at a time, reached the hall, flew across it, and opened 
the front door, just as his pursuer, electric torch in hand, 
covered half the stairs behind him. Slamming the door, 
he plunged headlong into the welcome, all-obscuring fog 
outside. 

The fog had now no terrors for him, he welcomed its 
concealing mantle ; nor did it matter in which direction 
he ran so long as he put distance between him and the 
house of death. The pursuer had, of course, not followed 
him into the street. He crossed open spaces without a 
tremor. He ran in a circle nevertheless, though without 
being aware he did so. No people were about, no single 
groping shadow passed him, no boom of traffic reached 
his ears, when he paused for breath at length against an 
area railing. Then for the first time he made the discovery 
that he had no hat. He remembered now. In examining 
the body, partly out of respect, partly perhaps uncon- 
sciously, he had taken it off and laid it — on the very bed. 

It was there, a tell-tale bit of damning evidence, in the 
house of death. And a series of probable consequences 
flashed through his mind light lightning. It was a new 
hat fortunately ; more fortunate still, he had not yet 
written name or initials in it ; but the maker's mark was 
there for all to read, and the police would go immediately 
to the shop where he had bought it only two days before. 
Would the shop-people remember his appearance ? Would 



CONFESSION 433 

his visit, the date, the 'conversation be recalled ? He 
thought it was unlikely ; he resembled dozens of men ; 
he had no outstanding peculiarity. He tried to think, but 
his mind was confused and troubled, his heart was beating 
dreadfully, he felt desperately ill. He sought vainly for 
some story to account for his being out in the fog and far 
from home without a hat. No single idea presented itself. 
He clung to the icy railings, hardly able to keep upright, 
collapse very near — when suddenly a figure emerged from 
the fog, paused a moment to stare at him, put out a hand 
and caught him, and then spoke : 

" You're ill, my dear sir," said a man's kindly voice. 
" Can I be of any assistance f Come, let me help you." 
He had seen at once that it was not a case of drunkenness. 
" Come, take my arm, won't you ? I'm a physician. 
Luckily, too, you are just outside my very house. Come 
in." And he half dragged, half pushed O'Reilly, now 
bordering on collapse, up the steps and opened the door 
with his latch-key. 

" Felt ill suddenly— lost in the fog . . . terrified, but 
be all right soon, thanks awfully : " the Canadian stam- 
mered his gratitude, but already feeling better. He sank 
into a chair in the hall, while the other put down a paper 
parcel he had been carrying, and led him presently into a 
comfortable room ; a fire burned brightly ; the electric 
lamps were pleasantly shaded ; a decanter of whisky and a 
siphon stood on a small table beside a big arm-chair ; and 
before O'Reilly could find another word to say the other 
had poured him out a glass and bade him sip it slowly, 
without troubling to talk till he felt better. 

" That will revive you. Better drink it slowly. You 
should never have been out a night like this. If you've 
far to go, better let me put you up " 

" Very kind, very kind, indeed," mumbled O'Reilly, 



434 STRANGE STORIES 

recovering rapidly in the comfort of a presence he already 
liked and felt even drawn to. 

" No trouble at all," returned the doctor. " I've been 
at the front, you know. I can see what your trouble 
is — shell-shock, I'll be bound." 

The Canadian, much impressed by the other's quick 
diagnosis, noted also his tact and kindness. He had made 
no reference to the absence of a hat, for instance. 

"Quite true," he said. "I'm with Dr. Henry, in 
Harley Street," and he added a few words about his case. 
The whisky worked its effect, he revived more and more, 
feeling better every minute. The other handed him a 
cigarette; tbey began to talk about his symptoms and 
recovery ; confidence returned in a measure, though he 
still felt badly frightened. The doctor's manner and 
personality did much to help, for there was strength and 
gentleness in the face, though the features showed unusual 
determination, softened occasionally by a sudden hint as 
of suffering in the bright, compelling eyes. It was the 
face, thought O'Reilly, of a man who had seen much and 
probably been through hell, but of a man who was simple, 
good, sincere. Yet not a man to trifle with ; behind his 
gentleness lay something very stern. This effect of 
character and personality woke the other's respect in 
addition to his gratitude. His sympathy was stirred. 

" You encourage me to make another guess," the man 
was saying, after a successful reading of the impromptu 
patient's state, "that you have had, namely, a severe 
shock quite recently, and "—he hesitated for the merest 
fraction of a second — " that it would be a relief to you," 
he went on, the skilful suggestion in the voice unnoticed 
by his companion, " it would be wise as well, if you could 
unburden yourself to — someone — who would understand.' 
He looked at O'Reilly with a kindly and very pleasant 



CONFESSION 435 

smile. " Am I not right, perhaps ? " he asked in his 
gentle tone. 

" Someone who would understand," repeated the 
Canadian. "That's my trouble exactly. You've hit it. 
It's all so incredible." 

The other smiled. " The more incredible," he suggested, 
" the greater your need for expression. Suppression, as 
you may know, is dangerous in cases like this. You think 
you have hidden it, but it bides its time and comes up 
later, causing a lot of trouble. Confession, you know " — 
he emphasised the word — " confession is good for the 
soul ! " 

" You're dead right," agreed the other. 

" Now, if you can, bring yourself to tell it to someone 
who will listen and believe — to myself, for instance. I 
am a doctor, familiar with such things. I shall regard all 
you say as a professional confidence, of course ; and, as 
we are strangers, my belief or disbelief is of no particular 
consequence. I may tell you in advance of your story, 
however— I think I can promise it — that I shall believe 
all you have to say." 

O'Reilly told his story without more ado, for the sug- 
gestion of the skilled physician had found easy soil to 
work in. During the recital his host's eyes never once 
left his own. He moved no single muscle of his body. 
His interest seemed intense. 

" A bit tall, isn't it ? " said the Canadian, when his 
tale was finished. "And the question is " he con- 
tinued with a threat of volubility which the other checked 
instantly. 

" Strange, yes, but incredible, no," the doctor inter- 
rupted. " I see no reason to disbelieve a single detail of 
what you have just told me. Things equally remarkable, 
equally incredible, happen in all large towns, as I know 



436 STRANGE STORIES 

from personal experience. I could give you instances." 
He paused a moment, but his companion, staring into his 
eyes with interest and curiosity, made no comment. 
" Some years ago, in fact," continued the other, " I knew 
of a very similar case— strangely similar." 

" Really ! I should be immensely interested " 

" So similar that it seems almost a coincidence. Ton 
may find it hard, in your turn, to credit it." He paused 
again,^ while O'Reilly sat forward in his chair to listen. 
"Yes," pursued the doctor slowly, "I think everyone 
connected with it is now dead. There is no reason why 
I should not tell it, for one confidence deserves another, 
you know. It happened during the Boer War— as long 
ago as that," he added with emphasis. " It is really a 
very commonplace story in one way, though very dreadful 
in another, but a man who has served at the front will 
understand and— I'm sure— will sympathize." 
" I'm sure of that," offered the other readily. 
"A colleague of mine, now dead, as I mentioned— a 
surgeon, with a big practice, married a young and charming 
girl. They lived happily together for several years. His 
wealth made her very comfortable. His consulting-room, 
I must tell you, was some distance from his house— just 
as this might be— so that she was never bothered with 
any of his cases. Then came the war. Like many others, 
though much over age, he volunteered. He gave up his 
lucrative practice and went to South Africa. His income, 
of course, stopped ; the big house was closed ; his wife 
found her life of enjoyment considerably curtailed. This 
she considered a great hardship, it seems. She felt a 
bitter grievance against him. Devoid of imagination, 
without any power of sacrifice, a selfish type, she was yet 
a beautiful, attractive woman— and young. The inevitable 
lover came upon the scene to console her. They planned 



CONFESSION 437 

to run away together. He was rich. Japan they thought 
would suit them. Only, by some ill luck, the husband got 
wind of it and arrived in London just in the nick of time." 

" Well rid of her," put in O'Reilly, " J think." 
The doctor waited a moment. He sipped his glass. 
Then his eyes fixed upon his companion's face somewhat 
sternly. 

" Well rid of her, yes," he continued, " only he determined 
to make that riddance final. He decided to kill her — and 
her lover. You see, he loved her." 

O'Reilly made no comment. In his own country this 
method with a faithless woman was not unknown. His 
interest was very concentrated. But he was thinking, too, 
as be listened, thinking hard. 

" He planned the time and place with care," resumed 
the other in a lower voice, as though he might possibly 
be overheard. " They met, he knew, in the big house, 
now closed, the house where he and his young wife had 
passed such happy years during their prosperity. The 
plan failed, however, in an important detail — the woman 
came at the appointed hour, but without her lover. She 
found death waiting for her — it was a painless death. 
Then her lover, who was to arrive half an hour later, did 
not come at all. The door had been left open for him 
purposely. The house was dark, its rooms shut up, 
deserted ; there was no caretaker even. It was a foggy 
night — just like this." 

" And the other ? " asked O'Reilly in a failing voice. 
" The lover " 

" A man did come in," the doctor went on calmly, 
" but it was not the lover. It was a stranger." 

" A stranger ? " the other whispered. " And the surgeon 
—where was he all the time ? " 

" Waiting outside to see him enter — concealed in the 



438 STRANGE STORIES 

fog. He saw the man go in. Five minutes later he 
followed, meaning to complete his vengeance, his act of 
justice, whatever you like to call it. But the man who 
had come in was a stranger— he came in by chance— just 

as you might have done — to shelter from the fog— or " 

^ O'Reilly, though with a great effort, rose abruptly to 
his feet. He had an appalling feeling that the man facing 
him was mad. He had a keen desire to get outside, fog 
or no fog, to leave this room, to escape from the calm 
accents of this insistent voice. The effect of the whisky 
was still in his blood. He felt no lack of confidence. But 
words came to him with difficulty. 

" I think I'd better be pushing off now, doctor," he said 
clumsily. " But I feel I must thank you very much for 
all your kindness and help." He turned and looked hard 
into the keen eyes facing him. " Your friend," he asked 
in a whisper, " the surgeon— I hope— I mean, was he ever 
caught ? " 

" No," was the grave reply, the doctor standing up in 
front of him, " he was never caught." 

O'Reilly waited a moment before he made another 
remark. " Well," he said at length, but in a louder tone 
than before, " I think— I'm glad." He went to the door 
without shaking hands. 

" You have no hat," mentioned the voice behind him. 
" If you'll wait a moment I'll get you one of mine. You 
need not trouble to return it." And the doctor passed 
him, going into the hall. There was a sound of tearing 
paper. O'Reilly left the house a moment later with a hat 
upon his head, but it was not till he reached the Tube 
station half an hour afterwards that he realized it was 
his own. 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 



HE was an accomplished, versatile man whom some 
called brilliant. Behind his .talents lay a wealth of 
material that right selection could have lifted into genuine 
distinction. He did too many things, however, to excel 
in one, for a restless curiosity kept him ever on the move. 
George Isley was an able man. His short career in 
diplomacy proved it ; yet, when he abandoned this for 
travel and exploration, no one thought it a pity. He would 
do big things in any line. He was merely finding himself. 

Among the rolling stones of humanity a few acquire 
moss of considerable value. They are not necessarily 
shiftless ; they travel light ; the comfortable pockets in 
the game of life that attract the majority are too small 
to retain them ; they are in and out again in a moment. 
The world says, " What a pity ! They stick to nothing ! " 
but the fact is that, like questing wild birds, they seek the 
nest they need. It is a question of values. They judge 
swiftly, change their line of flight, are gone, not even 
hearing the comment that they might have ' retired with 
a pension.' 

And to this homeless, questing type George Isley certainly 
belonged. He was by no means shiftless. He merely 
sought with insatiable yearning that soft particular nest 
in which he could settle down permanently. And to an 
accompaniment of sighs and regrets from his friends he 
found it ; he found it, however, not in the present, but by 

439 



44° STRANGE STORIES 

retiring from the world " without a pension," unclothed 
with honours and distinctions. He withdrew from the 
present and slipped softly back into a mighty Past where 
he belonged. Why ; how ; obeying what strange instincts 
— this remains unknown, deep secret of an inner life that 
found no resting-place in modern things. Such instincts 
are not disclosable in twentieth-century language, nor are 
the details of such a journey properly describable at all. 
Except by the few — poets, prophets, psychiatrists and the 
like — such experiences are dismissed with the neat museum 
label—" queer." 

So, equally, must the recorder of this experience share 
the honour of that little label — he who by chance witnessed 
certain external and visible signs of this inner and spiritual 
journey. There remains, nevertheless, the amazing reality 
of the experience ; and to the recorder alone was some 
clue of interpretation possible, perhaps, because in himself 
also lay the lure, though less imperative, of a similar 
journey. At any rate the interpretation may be offered 
to the handful who realise that trains and motors are not 
the only means of travel left to our progressive race. 

In his younger days I knew George Isley intimately. 
I know him now. But the George Isley I knew of old, 
the arresting personality with whom I travelled, climbed, 
explored, is no longer with us. He is not here. He dis- 
appeared — gradually — into the past. There is no George 
Isley. And that such an individuality could vanish, while 
still his outer semblance walks the familiar streets, normal 
apparently, and not yet fifty in the number of his years, 
seems a tale, though difficult, well worth the telling. For 
I witnessed the slow submergence. It was very gradual. 
I cannot pretend to understand the entire significance of 
it. There was something questionable and sinister in the 
business that offered hints of astonishing possibilities. 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 441 

Were there a corps of spiritual police, the matter might 
be partially cleared up, but since none of the churches 
have yet organised anything effective of this sort, one can 
only fall back upon variants of the blessed " Mesopotamia," 
and whisper of derangement, and the like. Such labels, 
of course, explain as little as most other cliches in life. 
That well-groomed, soldierly figure strolling down Picca- 
dilly, watching the Races, dining out — there is no derange- 
ment there. The face is not melancholy, the eye not wild ; 
the gestures are quiet and the speech controlled. Yet the 
eye is empty, the face expressionless. Vacancy reigns 
there, provocative and significant. If not unduly notice- 
able, it is because the majority in life neither expect, nor 
offer, more. 

At closer quarters you may think questioning things, 
or you may think — nothing; probably the latter. You 
may wonder why something continually expected does not 
make its appearance ; and you may watch for the evidence 
of " personality " the general presentment of the man has 
led you to expect. Disappointed, therefore, you may 
certainly be ; but I defy you to discover the smallest hint 
of mental disorder, and of derangement or nervous affliction, 
absolutely nothing. Before long, perhaps, you may feel 
you are talking with a dummy, some well-trained auto- 
maton, a nonentity, devoid of spontaneous life ; and 
afterwards you may find that memory fades rapidly away, 
as though no impression of any kind has really been made 
at all. All this, yes ; but nothing pathological. A few 
may be stimulated by this startling discrepancy between 
promise and performance, but most, accustomed to accept 
face values, would say, " a pleasant fellow, but nothing in 
him much . . ." and an hour later forget him altogether. 

For the truth is as you, perhaps, divined. You have 
been sitting beside no one, you have been talking to, looking 

P 



442 STRANGE STORIES 

at, listening to — no one. The intercourse has conveyed 
nothing that can waken human response in you, good, 
bad or indifferent. There is no George Isley. And the 
discovery, if you make it, will not even cause you to creep 
with the uncanniness of the experience, because the 
exterior is so wholly pleasing. George Isley to-day is a 
picture with no meaning in it that charms merely by the 
harmonious colouring of an inoffensive subject. He moves 
undiscovered in the little world of society to which he was 
born, secure in the groove first habit has made comfortably 
automatic for him. No one guesses; none, that is, but 
the few who knew him intimately in early life. And his 
wandering existence has scattered these ; they have for- 
gotten what he was. So perfect, indeed, is he in the 
manners of the commonplace fashionable man, that no 
woman in his " set " is aware that he differs from the type 
she is accustomed to. He turns a compliment with the 
accepted language -of her text-book, motors, golfs and 
gambles in the regulation manner of his particular world. 
He is an admirable, perfect automaton. He is nothing. 
He is a human shell. 



II 

The name of George Isley had been before the public 
for some years when, after a considerable interval,, we met 
.again in a hotel' in Egypt, I for my health, he for I knew 
not what — at first. But I soon discovered : archaeology 
and excavation had taken hold of him, though he had 
gone so quietly about it that no one seemed to have heard. 
I was not sure that he was glad to see me, for he had first 
withdrawn, annoyed, it seemed, at being discovered, but 
later, as though after consideration, had made tentative 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 443 

advances. He welcomed me with a curious gesture of the 
entire body that seemed to shake himself free from some- 
thing that had made him forget my identity. There was 
pathos somewhere in his attitude, almost as though he 
asked for sympathy. " I've been out here, off and on, 
for the last three years," he told me, after describing some- 
thing of what he had been doing. " I find it the most 
repaying hobby in the world. It leads to a reconstruction 
— an imaginative reconstruction, of course, I mean — of 
an enormous thing the world had entirely lost. A very 
gorgeous, stimulating hobby, believe me, and a very 

entic " he quickly changed the word — " exacting one 

indeed." 

I remember looking him up and down with astonishment. 
There was a change in him, a lack ; a note was missing in 
his enthusiasm, a colour in the voice, a quality in his 
manner. The ingredients were not mixed quite as of old. 
I did not bother him with questions, but I noted thus at 
the very first a subtle alteration. Another facet of the 
man presented itself. Something that had been inde- 
pendent and aggressive was replaced by a certain emptiness 
that invited sympathy. Even in his physical appearance 
the change was manifested — this odd suggestion of lessening 
I looked again more closely. Lessening was the word. 
He had somehow dwindled. It was startling, vaguely 
unpleasant too. 

The entire subject, as usual, was at his finger-tips ; he 
knew all the important men ; and had spent money freely 
on his hobby. I laughed, reminding him of his remark 
that Egypt had no attractions for him, owing to the 
organised advertisement of its somewhat theatrical charms. 
Admitting his error with a gesture, he brushed the objection 
easily aside. His manner, and a certain glow that rose 
about his atmosphere as he answered, increased my first 



444 STRANGE STORIES 

astonishment. His voice was significant and suggestive. 
" Come out with me," he said in a low tone, " and see how 
little the tourists matter, how inappreciable the excavation 
is compared to what remains to be done, how gigantic " — 
he emphasised the word impressively — " the scope for 
discovery remains." He made a movement with his head 
and shoulders that conveyed a sense of the prodigious, for 
he was of massive build, his cast of features stern, and his 
eyes, set deep into the face, shone past me with a sombre 
gleam in them I did not quite account for. It was the 
voice, however, that brought the mystery in. It vibrated 
somewhere below the actual sound of it. " Egypt," he 
continued — and so gravely that at first I made the mistake 
of thinking he chose the curious words on purpose to 
produce a theatrical effect — " that has enriched her blood 
with the pageant of so many civilisations, that has devoured 
Persians, Greeks and Romans, Saracens and Mamelukes, a 
dozen conquests and invasions besides — what can mere 
tourists or explorers matter to her ? The excavators 
scratch their skin and dig up mummies ; and as for 
tourists ! " — he laughed contemptuously — " flies that settle 
for a moment on her covered face, to vanish at the first 
signs of heat ! Egypt is not even aware of them. The 
real Egypt lies underground in darkness. Tourists must 
have light, to be seen as well as to see. And the 

diggers ! " 

He paused, smiling with something between pity and 
contempt I did not quite appreciate, for, personally, I felt 
a great respect for the tireless excavators. And then he 
added, with a touch of feeling in his tone as though he had 
a grievance against them, and had not also " dug " himself, 
" Men who uncover the dead, restore the temples, and 
reconstruct a skeleton, thinking they have read its beating 
heart. . . ." He shrugged his great shoulders, and the 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 445 

rest of the sentence may have been but the protest of a 
man in defence of his own hobby, but that there seemed 
an undue earnestness and gravity about it that made me 
wonder more than ever. He went on to speak of the 
strangeness of the land as a mere ribbon of vegetation 
along the ancient river, the rest all ruins, desert, sun- 
drenched wilderness of death, yet so breakingly alive with 
wonder, power and a certain disquieting sense of deathless- 
ness. There seemed, for him, a revelation of unusual 
spiritual kind in this land where the Past survived so 
potently. He spoke almost as though it obliterated the 
Present. 

Indeed, the hint of something solemn behind his words 
made it difficult for me to keep up the conversation, and 
the pause that presently came I filled in with some word 
of questioning surprise, which yet, I think, was chiefly in 
concurrence. I was aware of some big belief in him, some 
enveloping emotion that escaped my grasp. Yet, though 
I did not understand, his great mood swept me. . . . His 
voice lowered, then, as he went on to mention temples, 
tombs and deities, details of his own discoveries and of 
their effect upon him, but to this I listened with half an 
ear, because in the unusual language he had first made 
use of I detected this other thing that stirred my curiosity 
more — stirred it uncomfortably. 

" Then the spell," I asked, remembering the effect of 
Egypt upon myself two years before, " has worked upon 
you as upon most others, only with greater power ? " 

He looked hard at me a moment, signs of trouble showing 
themselves faintly in his rugged, interesting face. I think 
he wanted to say more than he could bring himself to 
confess. He hesitated. 

" I'm only glad," he replied after a pause, " it didn't 
get hold of me earlier in life. It would have absorbed me. 



446 STRANGE STORIES 

I should have lost all other interests. Now " — that 
curious look of helplessness, of asking sympathy, flitted 
like a shadow through his eyes — " now that I'm on the 
decline ... it matters less." 

On the decline ! I cannot imagine by what blundering 
I missed this chance he never offered again ; somehow or 
other the singular phrase passed unnoticed at the moment, 
and only came upon me with its full significance later when 
it was too awkward to refer to it. He tested my readiness 
to help, to sympathise, to share his inner life. I missed 
the clue. For, at the moment, a more practical considera- 
tion interested me in his language. Being of those who 
regretted that he had not excelled by devoting his powers 
to a single object, I shrugged my shoulders. He caught 
my meaning instantly. Oh, he was glad to talk. He felt 
the possibility of my sympathy underneath, I think. 

" No, no, you take me wrongly there," he said with 
gravity. " What I mean — and I ought to know if anyone 
does ! — is that while most countries give, others take away. 
Egypt changes you. No one can live here and remain 
exactly what he was before." 

This puzzled me. It startled, too, again. His manner 
was so earnest. "And Egypt, you mean, is one of the 
countries that take away ? " I asked. The strange idea 
unsettled my thoughts a little. 

" First takes away from you," he replied, " but in the 
end takes you away. Some lands enrich you," he went on, 
seeing that I listened, "while others impoverish. From 
India, Greece, Italy, all ancient lands, you return with — 
nothing. Its splendour stupefies ; it's useless. There is 
a change in your inmost being, an emptiness, an un- 
accountable yearning, but you find nothing that can fill 
the lack you're conscious of. Nothing comes to replace 
what has gone. You have been drained." 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 447 

I stared ; but I nodded a general acquiescence. Of a 
sensitive, artistic temperament this was certainly true, 
though by no means the superficial and generally accepted 
verdict. The majority imagine that Egypt has filled them 
to the brim. I took his deeper reading of the facts. I was 
aware of an odd fascination in his idea. 

" Modern Egypt," he continued, " is, after all, but a 
trick of civilisation," and there was a kind of breathlessness 
in his measured tone, " but ancient Egypt lies waiting, 
hiding, underneath. Though dead, she is amazingly alive. 
And you feel her touching you. She takes from you. She 
enriches herself. You return from Egypt — less than you 
were before." 

What came over my mind is hard to say. Some touch 
of visionary imagination burned its flaming path across 
my mind. I thought of some old Grecian hero speaking 
of his delicious battle with the gods — battle in which he 
knew he must be worsted, but yet in which he delighted 
because at death his spirit would join their glorious company 
beyond this world. I was aware, that is to say, of resig- 
nation as well as resistance in him. He already felt the 
effortless peace which follows upon long, unequal battling, 
as of a man who has fought the rapids with a strain beyond 
his strength, then sinks back and goes with the awful mass 
of water smoothly and indifferently — over the quiet fall. 

Yet, it was not so much his words which clothed pic- 
turesquely an undeniable truth, as the force of conviction 
that drove behind them, shrouding my mind with mystery 
and darkness. His eyes, so steadily holding mine, were 
lit, I admit, yet they were calm and sane as those of a 
doctor discussing the symptoms of that daily battle to 
which we all finally succumb. This analogy occurred to 
me. 

" There is " — I stammered a little, faltering in my speech 



448 STRANGE STORIES 

— " an incalculable element in the country . . . somewhere, 

I confess. You put, it — rather strongly, though, don't 

you ? " 

He answered quietly, moving his eyes from my face 

towards the window that framed the serene and exquisite 

sky towards the Nile. 
" The real, invisible Egypt," he murmured, " I do find 

rather — strong. I find it difficult to deal with. You see," 

and he turned towards me, smiling like a tired child, " I 

think the truth is that Egypt deals with me." 

" It draws " I began, then started as he interrupted 

me at once. 

" Into the Past." He uttered the little word in a way 

beyond me to describe. There came a flood of glory with 
it, a sense of peace and beauty, of battles over and of rest 
attained. No saint could have brimmed " Heaven " with 
as much passionately enticing meaning. He went willingly, 
prolonging the struggle merely to enjoy the greater relief 
and joy of the consummation. 

For again he spoke as though a struggle were in progress 
in his being. I got the impression that he somewhere 
wanted help. I understood the pathetic quality I had 
vaguely discerned already. His character naturally was 
so strong and independent. It now seemed weaker, as 
though certain fibres had been drawn out. And I under- 
stood then that the spell of Egypt, so lightly chattered 
about in its sensational aspect, so rarely known in its naked 
power, the nameless, creeping influence that begins deep 
below the surface and thence sends delicate tendrils out- 
wards, was in his blood. I, in my untaught ignorance, 
had felt it too ; it is undeniable ; one is aware of un- 
accountable, queer things in Egypt ; even the utterly 
prosaic feel them. Dead Egypt is marvellously alive. . . . 
I glanced past him out of the big windows where the 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 449 

desert glimmered in its featureless expanse of yellow 
leagues, two monstrous pyramids signalling from across 
the Nile, and for a moment — inexplicably, it seemed to 
me afterwards — I lost sight of my companion's stalwart 
figure that was yet so close before my eyes. He had risen 
from his chair ; he was standing near me ; yet my sight 
missed him altogether. Something, dim as a shadow, faint 
as a breath of air, rose up and bore my thoughts away, 
obliterating vision, too. I forgot for a moment who I 
was ; identity slipped from me. Thought, sight, feeling, 
all sank away into the emptiness of those sun-baked sands, 
sank, as it were, into nothingness, caught away from the 
Present, entined, absorbed. . . . And when I looked back 
again to answer him, or rather to ask what his curious 
words could mean — he was no longer there. More than 
surprised — for there was something of shock in the dis- 
appearance — I turned to search. I had not seen him go. 
He had stolen from my side so softly, slipped away silently, 
mysteriously, and — so easily. I remember that a faint 
shiver ran down my back as I realised that I was alone. 

Was it that, momentarily, I had caught a reflex of his 
state of mind ? Had my sympathy induced in myself an 
echo of what he experienced in full — a going backwards, 
a loss of present vigour, the enticing, subtle draw of those 
immeasurable sands that hide the living dead from the 
interruptions of the careless living . . . ? 

I sat down to reflect and, incidentally, to watch the 
magnificence of the sunset ; and the thing he had said 
returned upon me with insistent power, ringing like distant 
bells within my mind. His talk of the tombs and temples 
passed, but this remained. It stimulated oddly. His talk, 
I remembered, had always excited curiosity in this way. 
Some countries give, while others take away. What did 
he mean precisely ? What had Egypt taken away from 



+5o STRANGE STORIES 

him ? And I realised more definitely that something in 
him was missing, something he possessed in former years 
that was no longer there. He had grown shadowy already 
in my thoughts. The mind searched keenly, but in vain 
. . . and after some time I left my chair and moved over 
to another window, aware that a vague discomfort stirred 
within me that involved uneasiness — for him. I felt pity. 
But behind the pity was an eager, absorbing curiosity as 
well. He seemed receding curiously into misty distance, 
and the strong desire leaped in me to overtake, to travel 
with him into some vanished splendour that he had re- 
discovered. The feeling was a most remarkable one, for 
it included yearning — the yearning for some nameless, 
forgotten loveliness the world has lost. It was in me too. 
At the approach of twilight the mind loves to harbour 
shadows. The room, empty of guests, was dark behind 
me ; darkness, too, was creeping across the desert like a 
veil, deepening the serenity of its grim, unfeatured face. 
It turned pale with distance ; the whole great sheet of it 
went rustling into night. The first stars peeped and 
twinkled, hanging loosely in the air as though they could 
be plucked like golden berries ; and the sun was already 
below the Libyan horizon, where gold and crimson faded 
through violet into blue. I stood watching this mysterious 
Egyptian dusk, while an eerie glamour seemed to bring 
the incredible within uneasy reach of the half-faltering 
senses. . . . And suddenly the truth dropped into me. 
Over George Isley, over his mind and energies, over his 
thoughts and over his emotions too, a kind of darkness 
was also slowly creeping. Something in him had dimmed, 
yet not with age ; it had gone out. Some inner night, 
stealing over the Present, obliterated it. And yet he looked 
towards the dawn. Like the Egyptian monuments his 
eyes turned — eastwards. 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 451 

And so it came to me that what he had lost was personal 
ambition. He was glad, he said, that these Egyptian 
studies had not caught him earlier in life ; the language 
he made use of was peculiar ; " Now I am on the decline 
it matters less." A slight foundation, no doubt, to build 
conviction on, and yet I felt sure that I was partly right. 
He was fascinated, but fascinated against his will. The 
Present in him battled against the Past. Still fighting, 
he had yet lost hope. The desire not to change was now 
no longer in him. ... 

I turned away from the window so as not to see that 
grey, encroaching desert, for the discovery produced a 
certain agitation in me. Egypt seemed suddenly a living 
entity of enormous power. She stirred about me. She 
was stirring now. This fiat and motionless land pretending 
it had no movement, was actually busy with a million 
gestures that came creeping round the heart. She was 
reducing him. Already from the complex texture of his 
personality she had drawn one vital thread that in its 
relation to the general woof was of central importance — 
ambition. The mind chose the simile ; but in my heart 
where thought fluttered in singular distress, another 
suggested itself as truer. " Thread " changed to " artery." 
I turned quickly and went up to my room where I could 
be alone. The idea was somewhere ghastly. 



Ill 

Yet, while dressing for dinner, the idea exfoliated as 
only a living thing exfoliates. I saw in George Isley this 
great question mark that had not been there formerly. 
All have, of course, some question mark, and carry it 



452 STRANGE STORIES 

about, though with most it rarely becomes visible until the 
end. With him it rarely becomes visible in his atmosphere 
at the hey-day of his life. He wore it like a fine curved 
scimitar above his head. So full of life, he yet seemed 
willingly dead. For, though imagination sought every 
possible explanation, I got no further than the somewhat 
negative result — that a certain energy, wholly unconnected 
with mere physical health, had been withdrawn. It was 
more than ambition, I think, for it included intention, 
desire, self-confidence as well. It was life itself. He was 
no longer in the Present. He was no longer here. 

" Some countries give while others take away. ... I 
find Egypt difficult to deal with. I find it . . . and then 
that simple, uncomplex adjective — " strong." In memory 
and experience the entire globe was mapped for him ; it 
remained for Egypt, then, to teach him this marvellous 
new thing. But not Egypt of to-day; it was vanished 
Egypt that had robbed him of his strength. He had 
described it as underground, hidden, waiting. ... I was 
again aware of a faint shuddering — as though something 
crept secretly from my inmost heart to share the experience 
with him, and as though my sympathy involved a willing 
consent that this should be so. With sympathy there 
must always be a shedding of the personal self ; each time 
I felt this sympathy, it seemed that something left me. I 
thought in circles, arriving at no definite point where I 
could rest and say " that's it ; I understand." The giving 
attitude of a country was easily comprehensible ; but this 
idea of robbery, of deprivation baffled me. An obscure 
alarm took hold of me — for myself as well as for 
him. 

At dinner, where be invited me to his table, the im- 
pression passed off a good deal, however, and I convicted 
myself of a woman's exaggeration ; yet, as we talked of 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 453 

many a day's adventure together in other lands, it struck 
me that we oddly left the present out. We ignored to-day. 
His thoughts, as it were, went most easily backwards. 
And each adventure led, as by its own natural weight and 
impetus, towards one thing — the enormous glory of a 
vanished age. Ancient Egypt was " home " in this mys- 
terious game life played with death. The specific gravity 
of his being, to say nothing for the moment of my own, 
had shifted lower, farther off, backwards and below, or 
as he put it — underground. The sinking sensation I 
experienced was of a literal kind. . . . 

And so I found myself wondering what had led him to 
this particular hotel. I had come out with an affected 
organ the specialist promised me would heal in the mar- 
vellous air of Helouan, but it was queer that my companion 
also should have chosen it. Its clientele was mostly invalid, 
German and Russian invalid at that. The Management 
set its face against the lighter, gayer side of life that hotels 
in Egypt usually encourage eagerly. It was a true rest- 
house, a place of repose and leisure, a place where one 
could remain undiscovered and unknown. No English 
patronised it. One might easily — the idea came unbidden, 
suddenly — hide in it. 

" Then you're doing nothing just now," I asked, " in 
the way of digging ? No big expeditions or excavating 
at the moment ? " 

" I'm recuperating," he answered carelessly. " I've 
had two years up at the Valley of the Kings, and overdid 
it rather. But I'm by way of working at a little thing 
near here across the Nile." And he pointed in the direction 
of Sakkhara, where the huge Memphian cemetery stretches 
underground from the Dachur Pyramids to the Gizeh 
monsters, four miles lower down. " There's a matter of 
a hundred years in that alone ! " 



454 STRANGE STORIES 

"You must have accumulated a mass of interesting 
material. I suppose later you'll make use of it— a book 



or- 



His expression stopped me— that strange look in the 
eyes that had stirred my first uneasiness. It was as if 
something struggled up a moment, looked bleakly out upon 
the present, then sank away again. 

" More," he answered listlessly, " than I can ever use. 
It's much more likely to use me." He said it hurriedly, 
looking over his shoulder as though some one might be 
listening, then smiled significantly, bringing his eyes back 
upon my own again. I told him that he was far too modest. 
" If all the excavators thought like that," I added, " we 
ignorant ones should suffer." I laughed, but the laughter 
was only on my lips. 

He shook his head indifferently. " They do their best ; 
they do wonders," he replied, making an indescribable 
gesture as though he withdrew willingly from the topic 
altogether, yet could not quite achieve it. " I know their 
books ; I know the writers too— of various nationalities." 
He paused a moment, and his eyes turned grave. " I 
cannot understand quite— how they do it," he added half 
below his breath. 

"The labour, you mean ? The strain of the climate, 
and so forth ? " I said this purposely, for I knew quite 
well he meant another thing. The way he looked into my 
face, however, disturbed me so that I believe I visibly 
started. Something very deep in me sat up alertly listening, 
almost on guard. 

" I mean," he replied, " that they must have uncommon 
powers of resistance." 

There ! He had used the very word that had been 
hiding in me ! " It puzzles me," he went on, " for, with 
one exception, they are not unusual men. In the way of 



' A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 455 

gifts — oh yes. It's in the way of resistance and protection 
that I mean. Self-protection," he added with emphasis. 

It was the way he said "resistance" and "self-pro- 
tection " that sent a touch of cold through me. I learned 
later that he himself had made surprising discoveries in 
these two years, penetrating closer to the secret life of 
ancient sacerdotal Egypt than any of his predecessors or 
co-labourers — then, inexplicably, had ceased. But this 
was told to me afterwards and by others. At the moment 
I was only conscious of this odd embarrassment. I did 
not understand, yet felt that he touched upon something 
intimately personal to himself. He paused, expecting me 
to speak. 

" Egypt, perhaps, merely pours through them," I 
ventured. " They give out mechanically, hardly realising 
how much they give. They report facts devoid of inter- 
pretation. Whereas with you it's the actual spirit of the 
past that is discovered and laid bare. You live it. You 
feel old Egypt and disclose her. That divining faculty 
was always yours — uncannily, I used to think." 

The flash of his sombre eyes betrayed that my aim was 
singularly good. It seemed a third had silently joined our 
little table in the corner. Something intruded, evoked by 
the power of what our conversation skirted but ever left 
unmentioned. It was huge and shadowy; it was also 
watchful. Egypt came gliding, floating up beside us. I 
saw her reflected in his face and gaze. The desert slipped 
in through walls and ceiling, rising from beneath our feet, 
settling about us, listening, peering, waiting. The strange 
obsession was sudden and complete. The gigantic scale 
of her swam in among the very pillars, arches, and windows 
of that modern dining-room. I felt against my skin the 
touch of chilly air that sunlight never reaches, stealing 
from beneath the granite monoliths. Behind it came the 



45<5 STRANGE STORIES 

stifling breath of the heated tombs, of the Serapeum, of 
the chambers and corridors in the pyramids. There was a 
rustling as of myriad footsteps far away, and as of sand 
the busy winds go shifting through the ages. And in 
startling contrast to this impression of prodigious size, 
Isley himself wore suddenly an air of strangely dwindling. 
For a second he shrank visibly before my very eyes. He 
was receding. His outline seemed to retreat and lessen, 
as though he stood to the waist in what appeared like 
flowing mist, only his head and shoulders still above the 
ground. Far, far away I saw him. 

It was a vivid inner picture that I somehow transferred 
objectively. It was a dramatised sensation, of course. 
His former phrase "now that I am declining" flashed 
back upon me with sharp discomfort. Again, perhaps, his 
state of mind was reflected into me by some emotional 
telepathy. I waited, conscious of an almost sensible 
oppression that would not lift. It seemed an age before he 
spoke, and when he did there was the tremor of feeling 
in his voice he sought nevertheless to repress. I kept my 
eyes on the table for some reason. But I listened intently. 
" It's you that have the divining faculty, not I," he said, 
an odd note of distance even in his tone, yet a resonance 
as though it rose up between reverberating walls. " There 
is, I believe, something here that resents too close inquiry, 
or rather that resists discovery — almost — takes offence." 

I looked up quickly, then looked down again. It was 
such a startling thing to hear on the lips of a modern 
Englishman. He spoke lightly, but the expression of his 
face belied the careless tone. There was no mockery in 
those earnest eyes, and in the hushed voice was a little 
creeping sound that gave me once again the touch of 
goose-flesh. The only word I can find is " subterranean " : 
all that was mental in him had sunk, so that he seemed 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 457 

speaking underground, head and shoulders alone visible. 
The effect was almost ghastly. 

" Such extraordinary obstacles are put in one's way," 
he went on, "when the prying gets too close to the — 
reality ; physical, external obstacles, I mean. Either that, 
or — the mind loses its assimilative faculties. One or other 
happens — " his voice died down into a whisper — " and 
discovery ceases of its own accord." 

The same minute, then, he suddenly raised himself like 
a man emerging from a tomb ; he leaned across the table ; 
he made an effort of some violent internal kind, on the 
verge, I fully believe, of a pregnant personal statement. 
There was confession in his attitude ; I think he was about 
to speak of his work at Thebes and the reason for its abrupt 
cessation. For I had the feeling of one about to hear a 
weighty secret, the responsibility unwelcome. This un- 
comfortable emotion rose in me, as I raised my eyes to his 
somewhat unwillingly, only to find that I was wholly at 
fault. It was not me he was looking at. He was staring 
past me in the direction of the wide, unshuttered windows. 
The expression of yearning was visible in his eyes again. 
Something had stopped his utterance. 

And instinctively I turned and saw what he saw. So 
far as external details were concerned, at least, I saw it. 

Across the glare and glitter of the uncompromising 
modern dining-room, past crowded tables, and over the 
heads of Germans feeding unpicturesquely, I saw — the 
moon. Her reddish disc, hanging unreal and enormous, 
lifted the spread sheet of desert till it floated off the surface 
of the world. The great window faced the east, where the 
Arabian desert breaks into a ruin of gorges, cliffs, and flat- 
topped ridges ; it looked unfriendly, ominous, with danger 
in it ; unlike the serener sand-dunes of the Libyan desert, 
there lay both menace and seduction behind its flood of 



458 STRANGE STORIES 

shadows. And the moonlight emphasised this aspect : its 
ghostly desolation, its cruelty, its bleak hostility, turning 
it murderous. For no river sweetens this Arabian desert ; 
instead of sandy softness, it has fangs of limestone rock, 
sharp and aggressive. Across it, just visible in the moon- 
light as a thread of paler grey, the old camel-trail to Suez 
beckoned faintly. And it was this that he was looking at 
so intently. 

It was, I know, a theatrical stage-like glimpse, yet in it 
a seductiveness most potent. " Come out," it seemed to 
whisper, " and taste my awful beauty. Come out and lose 
yourself, and die. Come out and follow my moonlit trail 
into the Past . . . where there is peace and immobility 
and silence. My kingdom is unchanging underground. 
Come down, come softly, come through sandy corridors 
below this tinsel of your modern world. Come back, come 
down into my golden past. . . ." 

A poignant desire stole through my heart on moonlit 
feet ; I was personally conscious of a keen yearning to slip 
away in unresisting obedience. For it was uncommonly 
impressive, this sudden, haunting glimpse of the world 
outside. The hairy foreigners, uncouthly garbed, all busily 
eating in full electric light, provided a sensational contrast 
of emphatically distressing kind. A touch of what is called 
unearthly hovered about that distance through the window. 
There was weirdness in it. Eygpt looked in upon us. 
Egypt watched and listened, beckoning through the moonlit 
windows of the heart to come and find her. Mind and 
imagination might flounder as they pleased, but something 
of this kind happened undeniably, whether expression in 
language fails to hold the truth or not. And George Isley, 
aware of being seen, looked straight into the awful visage — 
fascinated. 

Over the bronze of his skin there stole a shade of grey. 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 459 

My own feeling of enticement grew — the desire to go out 
into the moonlight, to leave my kind and wander blindly 
through the desert, to see the gorges in their shining silver, 
and taste the keenness of the cool, sharp air. Further than 
this with me it did not go, but that my companion felt the 
bigger, deeper draw behind this surface glamour, I have no 
reasonable doubt. For a moment, indeed, I thought he 
meant to leave the table ; he had half risen in his chair ; 
it seemed he struggled and resisted — and then his big frame 
subsided again ; he sat back ; he looked, in the attitude 
his body took, less impressive, smaller, actually shrunken 
into the proportions of some minuter scale. It was as 
though something in that second had been drawn out of 
him, decreasing even his physical appearance. The voice, 
when he spoke presently with a touch of resignation, held 
a lifeless quality as though deprived of virile timbre. 

" It's always there," he whispered, half collapsing back 
into his chair, "it's always watching, waiting, listening. 
Almost like a monster of the fables, isn't it ? It makes 
no movement of its own, you see. It's far too strong for 
that. It just hangs there, half in the air and half upon the 
earth — a gigantic web. Its prey flies into it. That's 
Egypt all over. D'you feel like that too, or does it seem 
to you just imaginative rubbish f To me it seems that 
she just waits her time ; she gets you quicker that way ; 
in the end you're bound to go." 

" There's power certainly," I said after a moment's pause 
to collect my wits, my distress increased by the morbidness 
of his simile. " For some minds there may be a kind of 
terror too — for weak temperaments that are all imagina- 
tion." My thoughts were scattered, and I could not readily 
find good words. " There is startling grandeur in a sight 
like that, for instance," and I pointed to the window. 
" You feel drawn — as if you simply had to go." My mind 



460 STRANGE STORIES 

still buzzed with his curious words, " In the end you're 
bound to go." It betrayed his heart and soul. " I suppose 
a fly does feel drawn," I added, " or a moth to the destroying 
flame. Or is it just unconscious on their part ? " 

He jerked his big head significantly. " Well, well," he 
answered, " but the fly isn't necessarily weak, or the moth 
misguided. Over-adventurous, perhaps, yet both obedient 
to the laws of their respective beings. They get warnings 
too — only, when the moth wants to know too much, the fire 
stops it. Both flame and spider enrich themselves by 
understanding the natures of their prey ; and fly and moth 
return again and again until this is accomplished." 

Yet George Isley was as sane as the head waiter who, 
noticing our interest in the window, came up just then 
and enquired whether we felt a draught and would prefer 
it closed. Isley, I realised, was struggling to express a 
passionate state of soul for which, owing to its rarity, no 
adequate expression lies at hand. There is a language of 
the mind, but there is none as yet of the spirit. I felt ill 
at ease. All this was so foreign to the wholesome, strenuous 
personality of the man as I remembered it. 

" But, my dear fellow," I stammered, " aren't you giving 
poor old Egypt a bad name she hardly deserves ? I feel 
only the amazing strength and beauty of it; awe, if you like, 
but none of this resentment you so mysteriously hint at." 

" You understand, for all that," he answered quietly ; 
and again he seemed on the verge of some significant con- 
fession that might ease his soul. My uncomfortable 
emotion grew. Certainly he was at high pressure some- 
where. " And, if necessary, you could help. Your sym- 
pathy, I mean, is a help already." He said it half to 
himself and in a suddenly lowered tone again. 

" A help ! " I gasped. " My sympathy ! Of course, 
if " 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 461 

" A witness," he murmured, not looking at me, " some 
one who understands, yet does not think me mad." 

There was such appeal in bis voice that I felt ready and 
eager to do anything to help him. Our eyes met, and my 
own tried to express this willingness in me ; but what I 
said I hardly know, for a cloud of confusion was on my 
mind, and my speech went fumbling like a schoolboy's. 
I was more than disconcerted. Through this bewilderment, 
then, I just caught the tail-end of another sentence in which 
the words " relief it is to have . . . some one to hold to 
. . . when the disappearance comes . . ." sounded like 
voices heard in dream. But I missed the complete phrase 
and shrank from asking him to repeat it. 

Some sympathetic answer struggled to my lips, though 
what it was I know not. The thing I murmured, however, 
seemed apparently well chosen. He leaned across and laid 
his big hand a moment on my own with eloquent pressure 
It was cold as ice. A look of gratitude passed over his 
sunburned features. He sighed. And we left the table 
then and passed into the inner smoking-room for coffee — 
a room whose windows gave upon columned terraces that 
allowed no view of the encircling desert. He led the con- 
versation into channels less personal and, thank heaven, 
less intensely emotional and mysterious. What we talked 
about I now forget ; it was interesting but in another key 
altogether. His old charm and power worked ; the 
respect I had always felt for his character and gifts returned 
in force, but it was the pity I now experienced that remained 
chiefly in my mind. For this change in him became more 
and more noticeable. He was less impressive, less con- 
vincing, less suggestive. His talk, though so knowledge- 
able, lacked that spiritual quality that drives home. He 
was uncannily less real. And I went up to bed, uneasy 
and disturbed. " It is not age," I said to myself, " and 



462 STRANGE STORIES 

assuredly it is not death he fears, although he spoke of 
disappearance. It is mental — in the deepest sense. It is 
what religious people would call soul. Something is 
happening to his soul." 



IV 

And this word " soul " remained with me to the end. 
Egypt was taking his soul away into the Past. What was 
of value in him went willingly ; the rest, some lesser aspect 
of his mind and character, resisted, holding to the present. 
A struggle, therefore, was involved. But this was being 
gradually obliterated too. 

How I arrived gaily at this monstrous conclusion seems 
to me now a mystery ; but the truth is that from a con- 
versation one brings away a general idea that is larger than 
the words actually heard and spoken. I have reported, 
naturally, but a fragment of what passed between us in 
language, and of what was suggested — by gesture, ex- 
pression, silence — merely perhaps a hint. I can only 
assert that this troubling verdict remained a conviction in 
my mind. It came upstairs with me ; it watched and 
listened by my side. That mysterious Third evoked in our 
conversation was bigger than either of us separately ; it 
might be called the spirit of ancient Egypt, or it might be 
called with equal generalisation, the Past. This Third, at 
any rate, stood by me, whispering this astounding thing. I 
went out on to my little balcony to smoke a pipe and enjoy 
the comforting presence of the stars before turning in. It 
came out with me. It was everywhere. I heard the bark- 
ing of dogs, the monotonous beating of a distant drum 
towards Bedraschien, the sing-song voices of the natives in 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 463 

their booths and down the dim-lit streets. I was aware of 
this invisible Third behind all these familiar sounds. The 
enormous night-sky, drowned in stars, conveyed it too. It 
was in the breath of chilly wind that whispered round the 
walls, and it brooded everywhere above the sleepless 
desert. I was alone as little as though George Isley stood 
beside me in person — and at that moment a moving figure 
caught my eye below. My window was on the sixth story 
but there was no mistaking the tall and soldierly bearing of 
the man who was strolling past the hotel. George Isley 
was going slowly out into the desert. 

There was actually nothing unusual in the sight. It was 
only ten o'clock ; but for doctor's orders I might have been 
doing the same myself. Yet, as I leaned over the dizzy 
ledge and watched him, a chill struck through me, and a 
feeling nothing could justify, nor pages of writing describe, 
rose up and mastered me. His words at dinner came back 
with curious force. Egypt lay round him, motionless, a 
vast grey web. His feet were caught in it. It quivered. 
The silvery meshes in the moonlight announced the fact 
from Memphis up to Thebes, across the Nile, from under- 
ground Sakkhara to the Valley of the Kings. A tremor 
ran over the entire desert, and again, as in the dining-room, 
the leagues of sand went rustling. It seemed to me that I 
caught him in the act of disappearing. 

I realised in that moment the haunting power of this 
mysterious still atmosphere which is Egypt, and some 
magical emanation of its mighty past broke over me sud- 
denly like a wave. Perhaps in that moment I felt what he 
himself felt ; the withdrawing suction of the huge spent 
wave swept something out of me into the past with it. An 
indescribable yearning drew something living from my 
heart, something that longed with a kind of burning, 
searching sweetness for a glory of spiritual passion that was 



464 STRANGE STORIES 

gone. The pain and happiness of it were more poignant 
than may be told, and my present personality — some vital 
portion of it, at any rate — wilted before the power of its 
enticement. 

I stood there, motionless as stone, and stared. Erect 
and steady, knowing resistance vain, eager to go yet striving 
to remain, and half with an air of floating off the ground, he 
went towards the pale grey thread which was the track to 
Suez and the far Red Sea. There came upon me this 
strange, deep sense of pity, pathos, sympathy that was 
beyond all explanation, and mysterious as a pain in dreams. 
For a sense of his awful loneliness stole into me, a loneliness 
nothing on this earth could possibly relieve. Robbed of 
the Present, he sought this chimera of his soul, an unreal 
Past. Not even the calm majesty of this exquisite Egyptian 
night could soothe the dream away ; the peace and silence 
were marvellous, the sweet perfume of the desert air 
intoxicating ; but all these intensified it only. 

And though at a loss to explain my own emotion, its 
poignancy was so real that a sigh escaped me and I felt that 
tears lay not too far away. I watched him, yet felt I had 
no right to watch. Softly I drew back from the window 
with the sensation of eavesdropping upon his privacy ; but 
before I did so I had seen his outline melt away into the 
dim world of sand that began at the very walls of the hotel. 
He wore a cloak of green that reached down almost to his 
heels, and its colour blended with the silvery surface of the 
desert's dark sea-tint. This sheen first draped and then 
concealed him. It covered him with a fold of its mysterious 
garment that, without seam or binding, veiled Egypt for a 
thousand leagues. The desert took him. Egypt caught 
him in her web. He was gone. 

Sleep for me just then seemed out of the question. The 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 465 

change in him made me feel less sure of myself. To see him 
thus invertebrate shocked me. I was aware that I had 
nerves. 

For a long time I sat smoking by the window, my body 
weary, but my imagination irritatingly stimulated. The 
big sign-lights of the hotel went out ; window after window 
closed below me ; the electric standards in the streets were 
already extinguished ; and Helouan looked like a child's 
white blocks scattered in ruin upon the nursery carpet. It 
seemed so wee upon the vast expanse. It lay in a twinkling 
pattern, like a cluster of glow-worms dropped into a neglig- 
ible crease of the tremendous desert. It peeped up at the 
stars, a little frightened. 

The night was very still. There hung an enormous 
brooding beauty everywhere, a hint of the sinister in it that 
only the brilliance of the blazing stars relieved. Nothing 
really slept. Grouped here and there at intervals about 
this dun-coloured world stood the everlasting watchers in 
solemn, tireless guardianship — the soaring Pyramids, the 
Sphinx, the grim Colossi, the empty temples, the long- 
deserted tombs. The mind was aware of them, stationed 
like sentries through the night. " This is Egypt ; you 
are actually in Egypt," whispered the silence. " Eight 
thousand years of history he fluttering outside your window. 
She lies there underground, sleepless, mighty, deathless, not 
to be trifled with. Beware ! Or she will change you 
too ! " 

My imagination offered this hint : Egypt is difficult to 
realise. It remains outside the mind, a fabulous, half- 
legendary idea. So many enormous elements together 
refuse to be assimilated ; the heart pauses, asking for time 
and breath ; the senses reel a little ; and in the end a 
mental torpor akin to stupefaction creeps upon the brain. 
With a sigh the struggle is abandoned and the mind sur- 



466 STRANGE STORIES 

renders to Egypt on her own terms. Alone the diggers and 
archaeologists, confined to definite facts, offer successful 
resistance. My friend's use of the words " resistance " and 
" protection " became clearer to me. While logic halted, 
intuition fluttered round this clue to the solution of the 
influences at work. George Isley realised Egypt more than 
most — but as she had been. 

And I recalled its first effect upon myself, and how my 
mind had been unable to cope with the memory of it after- 
wards. There had come to its summons a colossal medley, 
a gigantic, coloured blur that merely bewildered. Only 
lesser points lodged comfortably in the heart. I saw a 
chaotic vision : sands drenched in dazzling light, vast 
granite aisles, stupendous figures that stared unblinking at 
the sun, a shining river and a shadowy desert, both endless 
as the sky, mountainous pyramids and gigantic monoliths, 
armies of heads, of paws, of faces — all set to a scale of size 
that was prodigious. The items stunned ; the composite 
effect was too unwieldy to be grasped. Something that 
blazed with splendour rolled before the eyes, too close to be 
seen distinctly — at the same time very distant — unrealised. 
Then, with the passing of the weeks, it slowly stirred to 
life. It had attacked unseen ; its grip was quite tremen- 
dous ; yet it could be neither told, nor painted, nor described. 
It flamed up unexpectedly — in the foggy London streets, at 
the Club, in the theatre. A sound recalled the street-cries 
of the Arabs, a breath of scented air brought back the 
heated sand beyond the palm groves. Up rose the huge 
Egyptian glamour, transforming common things ; it had 
lain buried all this time in deep recesses of the heart that are 
inaccessible to ordinary daily life. And there hid in it 
something of uneasiness that was inexplicable ; awe, a 
hint of cold eternity, a touch of something unchanging and 
terrific, something sublime made lovely yet unearthly with 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 467 

shadowy time and distance. The melancholy of the Nile 
and the grandeur of a hundred battered temples dropped 
some unutterable beauty upon the heart. Up swept the 
desert air, the luminous pale shadows, the naked desolation 
that yet brims with sharp vitality. An Arab on his 
donkey tripped in colour across the mind, melting off into 
tiny perspective, strangely vivid. A string of camels stood 
in silhouette against the crimson sky. Great winds, great 
blazing spaces, great solemn nights, great days of golden 
splendour rose from the pavement or the theatre-stall, and 
London, dim-lit England, the whole of modern life, indeed, 
seemed suddenly reduced to a paltry insignificance that 
produced an aching longing for the pageantry of those 
millions of vanished souls. Egypt rolled through the heart 
for a moment — and was gone. 

I remembered that some such fantastic experience had 
been mine. Put it as one may, the fact remains that for 
certain temperaments Egypt can rob the Present of some 
thread of interest that was formerly there. The memory 
became for me an integral part of personality ; something 
in me yearned for its curious and awful beauty. He who 
has drunk of the Nile shall return to drink of it again. . . . 
And if for myself this was possible, what might not happen 
to a character of George Isley's type ? Some glimmer of 
comprehension came to me. The ancient, buried, hidden 
Egypt had cast her net about his soul. Grown shadowy in 
the Present, his life was being transferred into some golden, 
reconstructed Past, where it was real. Some countries 
give, while others take away. And George Isley was worth 
robbing. ... 

Disturbed by these singular reflections, I moved away 
from the open window, closing it. But the closing did not 
exclude the presence of the Third. The biting night air 
followed me in. I drew the mosquito curtains round the 



468 STRANGE STORIES 

bed, but the light I left still burning ; and, lying there, I 
jotted down upon a scrap of paper this curious impression 
as best I could, only to find that it escaped easily between 
the words. Such visionary and spiritual perceptions are 
too elusive to be trapped in language. Reading it over 
after an interval of years, it is difficult to recall with what 
intense meaning, what uncanny emotion, I wrote those 
faded lines in pencil. Their rhetoric seems cheap, their 
content much exaggerated ; yet at the time truth burned 
in every syllable. Egypt, which since time began has 
suffered robbery with violence at the hands of all the world, 
now takes her vengeance, choosing her individual prey. 
Her time has come. Behind a modern mask she lies in 
wait, intensely active, sure of her hidden power. Prostitute 
of dead empires, she lies now at peace beneath the same old 
stars, her loviness unimpaired, bejewelled with the beaten 
gold of ages, her breasts uncovered, and her grand limbs 
flashing in the sun. Her shoulders of alabaster are lifted 
above the sand-drifts ; she surveys the little figures of 
to-day. She takes her choice. . . . 

That night I did not dream, but neither did the whole 
of me lie down in sleep. During the long dark hours I was 
aware of that picture endlessly repeating itself, the picture 
of George Isley stealing out into the moonlight desert. 
The night so swiftly dropped her hood about him ; so 
mysteriously he merged into the unchanging thing which 
cloaks the past. It lifted. Some huge shadowy hand, 
gloved softly yet of granite, stretched over the leagues to 
take him . He disappeared. 

They say the desert is motionless and has no gestures ! 
That night I saw it moving, hurrying. It went tearing 
after him. You understand my meaning ? No ! Well, 
when exited it produces this strange impression, and the 
terrible moment is — when you surrender helplessly — you 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 469 

desire it shall swallow you. You let it come. George 
Isley spoke of a web. It is, at any rate, some central 
power that conceals itself behind the surface glamour folk 
call the spell of Egypt. Its home is not apparent. It 
dwells with ancient Egypt — underground. Behind the 
stillness of hot windless days, behind the peace of calm, 
gigantic nights, it lurks unrealised, monstrous and irresistible. 
My mind grasped it as little as the fact that our solar system 
with all its retinue of satellites and planets rushes annually 
many million miles towards a star in Hercules, while yet 
that constellation appears no closer than it did six thousand 
years ago. But the clue dropped into me. George Isley, 
with his entire retinue of thought and life and feeling, was 
being similarly drawn. And I, a minor satellite, had 
become aware of the horrifying pull. It was magnificent. 
. . . And I fell asleep on the crest of this enormous wave. 



The next few days passed idly ; weeks passed too, I 
think ; hidden away in this cosmopolitan hotel we lived 
apart, unnoticed. There was the feeling that time went 
what pace it pleased, now fast, now slow, now standing 
still. The similarity of the brilliant days, set between 
wondrous dawns and sunsets, left the impression that it 
was really one long, endless day without divisions. The 
mind's machinery of measurement suffered dislocation. 
Time went backwards ; dates were forgotten ; the month, 
the time of year, the century itself went down into un- 
differentiated life. 

The Present certainly slipped away curiously. News- 
papers and politics became unimportant, news uninterest- 
ing, English life so remote as to be unreal, European 



47° STRANGE STORIES 

affairs shadowy. The stream of life ran in another direction 
altogether — backwards. The names and faces of friends 
appeared through mist. People arrived as though dropped 
from the skies. They suddenly were there ; one saw them 
in the dining-room, as though they had just slipped in from 
an outer world that once was real — somewhere. Of course, 
a steamer sailed four times a week, and the journey took 
five days, but these things were merely known, not realised. 
The fact that here it was summer, whereas over there 
winter reigned, helped to make the distance not quite 
thinkable. We looked at the desert and made plans. 
" We will do this, we will do that ; we must go there, we'll 
visit such and such a place . . ." yet nothing happened. It 
always was to-morrow or yesterday, and we shared the 
discovery of Alice that there was no real " to-day." For 
our thinking made everything happen. That was enough. 
It had happened. It was the reality of dreams. Egypt 
was a dream-world that made the heart live backwards. 

It came about, thus, that for the next few weeks I 
watched a fading life, myself alert and sympathetic, yet 
unable somehow to intrude and help. Noticing various 
little things by which George Isley betrayed the progress of 
the unequal struggle, I found my assistance negatived by 
the fact that I was in similar case myself. What he 
experienced in large and finally, I, too, experienced in little 
and for the moment. For I seemed also caught upon the 
fringe of the invisible web. My feelings were entangled 
sufficiently for me to understand. . . . And the decline of 
his being was terrible to watch. His character went with 
it ; I saw his talents fade, his personality dwindle, his very 
soul dissolve before the insidious and invading influence. 
He hardly struggled. I thought of those abominable 
insects that paralyse the motor systems of their victims and 
then devour them at their leisure — alive. The incredible 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 471 

adventure was literally true, but, being spiritual, may not 
be told in the terms of a detective story. This version must 
remain an individual rendering — an aspect of one possible 
version. All who know the real Egypt, that Egypt which 
has nothing to do with dams and Nationalists and the 
external welfare of the felaheen, will understand. The 
pilfering of her ancient dead she suffers still ; she, in 
revenge, preys at her leisure on the living. 

The occasions when he betrayed himself were ordinary 
enough ; it was the glimpse they afforded of what was in 
progress beneath his calm exterior that made them interest- 
ing. Once, I remember, we had lunched together, at Mena, 
and, after visiting certain excavations beyond the Gizeh 
pyramids, we made our way homewards by way of the 
Sphinx. It was dusk, and the main army of tourists had 
retired, though some few dozen sightseers still moved about 
to the cries of donkey-boys and baksheesh. The vast head 
and shoulders suddenly emerged, riding undrowned above 
the sea of sand. Dark and monstrous in the fading light, it 
loomed, as ever, a being of non-human lineage ; no amount 
of f amiliarity could depreciate its grandeur,, its impressive 
setting, the lost expression of the countenance that is too 
huge to focus as a face. A thousand visits leave its power 
undiminished. It has intruded upon our earth from some 
uncommon world. George Isley and myself both turned 
aside to acknowledge the presence of this alien, uncomfort- 
able thing. We did not linger, but we slackened pace. It 
was the obvious, inevitable thing to do. He pointed then, 
with a suddenness that made me start. He indicated the 
tourists standing round. 

" See," he said, in a lowered tone, " day and night you'll 
always find a crowd obedient to that thing. But notice 
their behaviour. People don't do that before any other 
ruin in the world I've ever seen." He referred to the 



472 STRANGE STORIES 

attempts of individuals to creep away alone and stare into 
the stupendous visage by themselves. At different points 
in the deep sandy basin were men and women, standing 
solitary, lying, crouching, apart from the main company 
where the dragomen mouthed their exposition with im- 
pertinent glibness. 

" The desire to be alone," he went on, half to himself, as 
we paused a moment, " the sense of worship which insists on 
privacy." 

It was significant, for no amount of advertising could 
dwarf the impressiveness of the inscrutable visage into 
whose eyes of stone the silent humans gazed. Not even the 
redcoat, standing inside one gigantic ear, could introduce 
the commonplace. But my companion's words let another 
thing into the spectacle, a less exalted thing, dropping a 
hint of horror about that sandy cup : It became easy, for a 
moment, to imagine these tourists worshipping — against 
their will ; to picture the monster noticing that they were 
there ; that it might slowly turn its awful head ; that the 
sand might visibly trickle from a stirring paw ; that, in a 
word, they might be taken — changed. 

" Come," he whispered in a dropping tone, interrupting 
my fancies as though he half divined them, " it is getting 
late, and to be alone with the thing is intolerable to me just 
now. But you notice, don't you," he added, as he took my 
arm to hurry me away, " how little the tourists matter ? 
Instead of injuring the effect, they increase it. It uses 
them." 

And again a slight sensation of chill, communicated 
possibly by his nervous touch, or possibly by his earnest way 
of saying these curious words, passed through me. Some 
part of me remained behind in that hollow trough of sand, 
prostrate before an immensity that symbolised the past. 
A curious, wild yearning caught me momentarily, an 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 473 

intense desire to understand exactly why that terror stood 
there, its actual meaning long ago to the hearts that set it 
waiting for the sun, what definite role it played, what souls 
it stirred and why, in that system of towering belief and 
faith whose indestructible emblem it still remained. The 
past stood grouped so solemnly about its menacing present- 
ment. I was distinctly aware of this spiritual suction 
backwards that my companion yielded to so gladly, yet 
against his normal, modern self. For it made the past 
appear magnificently desirable, and loosened all the rivets 
of the present. It bodied forth three main ingredients of 
this deep Egyptian spell — size, mystery, and immobility. 

Yet, to my relief, the cheaper aspect of this Egyptian 
glamour left him cold. He remained unmoved by the 
commonplace mysterious ; he told no mummy stories, nor 
ever hinted at the supernatural quality that leaps to the 
mind of the majority. There was no play in him. The 
influence was grave and vital. And, although I knew he 
held strong views with regard to the impiety of disturbing 
the dead, he never in my hearing attached any possible 
revengeful character to the energy of an outraged past. 
The current tales of this description he ignored ,• they were 
for superstitious minds or children ; the deities that claimed 
his soul were of a grander order altogether. He lived, if it 
may be so expressed, already in a world his heart had 
reconstructed or remembered ; it drew him in another 
direction altogether ; with the modern, sensational view of 
life his spirit held no traffic any longer ; he was living 
backwards. I saw his figure receding mournfully, yet never 
sentimentally, into the spacious, golden atmosphere of 
recaptured days. The enormous soul of buried Egypt drew 
him down. The dwindling of his physical appearance was, 
of course, a mental interpretation of my own ; but another, 
stranger interpretation of a spiritual kind moved parallel 



474 STRANGE STORIES 

with it — marvellous and horrible. For, as he diminished 
outwardly and in his modern, present aspect, he grew 
within — gigantic. The size of Egypt entered into him. 
Huge proportions now began to accompany any present- 
ment of his personality to my inner vision. He towered. 
These two qualities of the land already obsessed him — 
magnitude and immobility. 

And that awe which modern life ignores contemptuously 
woke in my heart. I almost feared his presence at certain 
times. For one aspect of the Egyptian spell is explained by 
sheer size and bulk. Disdainful of mere speed to-day, the 
heart is still uncomfortable with magnitude ; and in 
Egypt there is size that may easily appal, for every detail 
shunts it laboriously upon the mind. It elbows out the 
present. The desert's vastness is not made comprehensible 
by mileage, and the sources of the Nile are so distant that 
they exist less on the map than in the imagination. The 
effort to realise suffers paralysis ; they might equally be in 
the moon or Saturn. The undecorated magnificence of the 
desert remains unknown, just as the proportions of pyramid 
and temple, of pylons and Colossi approach the edge of the 
mind yet never enter in. All stand outside, clothed in this 
prodigious measurement of the past. And the old beliefs 
not only share this titanic effect upon the consciousness, but 
carry it stages further. The entire scale haunts with 
uncomfortable immensity, so that the majority run back 
with relief to the measurable details of a more manageable 
scale. Express trains, flying machines, Atlantic liners — 
these produce no unpleasant stretching of the faculties 
compared to the influence of the Karnak pylons, the pyra- 
mids, or the interior of the Serapeum. 

Close behind this magnitude, moreover, steps the mon- 
strous. It is revealed not in sand and stone alone, in queer 
effects of light and shadow, of glittering sunsets and of 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 475 

magical dusks, but in the very aspect of the bird and 
animal life. The heavy-headed buffaloes betray it equally 
with the vultures, the myriad kites, the grotesqueness of 
the mouthing camels. The rude, enormous scenery has it 
everywhere. There is nothing lyrical in this land of 
passionate mirages. Uncouth immensity notes the little 
human flittings. The days roll by in a tide of golden 
splendour ; one goes helplessly with the flood ; but it is an 
irresistible flood that sweeps backwards and below. The 
silent-footed natives in their coloured robes move before a 
curtain, and behind that curtain dwells the soul of ancient 
Egypt — the Reality, as George Isley called it — watching,, 
with sleepless eyes of grey infinity. Then, sometimes the- 
curtain stirs and lifts an edge ; an invisible hand creeps- 
forth ; the soul is touched. And some one disappears. 



VI 

The process of disintegration must have been at work a. 
long time before I appeared upon the scene ; the changes- 
went forward with such rapidity. 

It was his third year in Egypt, two of which had been 
spent without interruption in company with an Egyptologist 
named Moleson, in the neighbourhood of Thebes. I 
soon discovered that this region was for him the centre of 
attraction, or as he put it, of the web. Not Luxor, of 
course, nor the images of reconstructed Karnak ; but that 
stretch of grim, forbidding mountains where royalty, 
earthly and spiritual, sought eternal peace for the physical 
remains. There, amid surroundings of superb desolation,, 
great priests and mighty kings had thought themselves 
secure from sacrilegious touch. In caverns underground 



476 STRANGE STORIES 

they kept their faithful tryst with centuries, guarded by the 
silence of magnificent gloom. There they waited, com- 
muning with passing ages in their sleep, till Ra, their glad 
divinity, should summon them to the fulfilment of their 
ancient dream. And there, in the Valley of the Tombs of 
the Kings, their dream was shattered, their lovely prophecies 
derided, and their glory dimmed by the impious desecration 
of the curious. 

That George Isley and his companion had spent their 
time, not merely digging and deciphering like their practical 
confreres, but engaged in some strange experiments of 
recovery and reconstruction, was matter for open comment 
among the fraternity. That incredible things had happened 
there was the big story of two Egyptian seasons at least. I 
heard this later only — tales of an utterly incredible kind, 
that the desolate vale of rock was seen repeopled on moonlit 
nights, that the smoke of unaccustomed fires rose to cap the 
flat-topped peaks, that the pageantry of some forgotten 
worship had been seen to issue from the openings of these 
hills, and that sounds of chanting, sonorous and mar- 
vellously sweet, had been heard to echo from those bleak, 
repellent precipices. The tales apparently were grossly 
exaggerated ; wandering Bedouins brought them in ; the 
guides and dragomen repeated them with mysterious 
additions ; till they filtered down through the native 
servants in the hotels and reached the tourists with highly 
picturesque embroidery. They reached the authorities too. 
The only accurate fact I gathered at the time, however, 
was that they had abruptly ceased. George Isley and 
Moleson, moreover, had parted company. And Moleson, I 
heard, was the originator of the business. He was, at this 
time, unknown to me ; his arresting book on " A Modern 
Reconstruction of Sun-worship in Ancient Egypt " being 
my only link with his unusual mind. Apparently he 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 477 

regarded the sun as the deity of the scientific religion of the 
future which would replace the various anthropomorphic 
gods of childish creeds. He discussed the possibility of the 
zodiacal signs being some kind of Celestial Intelligences. 
Belief blazed on every page. Men's life is heat, derived 
solely from the sun, and men were, therefore, part of the 
sun in the sense that a Christian is part of his personal deity. 
And absorption was the end. His description of " sun- 
worship ceremonials " conveyed an amazing reality and 
beauty. This singular book, however, was all I knew of 
him until he came to visit us in Helouan, though I easily 
discerned that his influence somehow was the original cause 
of the change in my companion. 

At Thebes, then, was the active centre of the influence 
that drew my friend away from modern things. It was 
there, I easily guessed, that " obstacles " had been placed 
in the way of these men's too close enquiry. In that 
haunted and oppressive valley, where profane and reverent 
come to actual grips, where modern curiosity is most busily 
organised, and even tourists are aware of a masked hostility 
that dogs the prying of the least imaginative mind — there, 
in the neighbourhood of the hundred-gated city, had 
Egypt set the headquarters of her irreconcilable enmity. 
And it was there, amid the ruins of her loveliest past, that 
George Isley had spent his years of magical reconstruction 
and met the influence that now dominated his entire life. 

And though no definite avowal of the struggle betrayed 
itself in speech between us, I remember fragments of 
conversation, even at this stage, that proved his willing 
surrender of the present. We spoke of fear once, though 
with the indirectness of connection I have mentioned. I 
urged that the mind, once it is forewarned, can remain 
master of itself and prevent a thing from happening. 

" But that does not make the thing unreal," he objected. 



478 STRANGE STORIES 

" The mind can deny it," I said. " It then becomes 
unreal." 

He shook his head. " One does not deny an unreality. 
Denial is a childish act of self-protection against something 
you expect to happen." He caught my eye a moment. 
" You deny what you are afraid of," he said. " Fear 
invites." And he smiled uneasily. " You know it must 
get you in the end." And, both of us being aware secretly 
to what our talk referred, it seemed bold-blooded and 
improper ; for actually we discussed the psychology of his 
disappearance. Yet, while I disliked it, there was a 
fascination about the subject that compelled attraction. 
..." Once fear gets in," he added presently, " confidence 
is undermined, the structure of life is threatened, and you — 
go gladly. The foundation of everything is belief. A man 
is what he believes about himself ; and in Egypt you can 
believe things that elsewhere you would not even think 
about. It attacks the essentials." He sighed, yet with a 
curious pleasure ; and a smile of resignation and relief 
passed over his rugged features and was gone again. The 
luxury of abandonment lay already in him. 

" But even belief," I protested, " must be founded on 
some experience or other." It seemed ghastly to speak of 
his spiritual malady behind the mask of indirect allusion. 
My excuse was that he so obviously talked willingly. 

He agreed instantly. " Experience of one kind or 
another," he said darkly, " there always is. Talk with 
the men who live out here ; ask any one who thinks, or 
who has the imagination which divines. You'll get only 
one reply, phrase it how they may. Even the tourists and 
the little commonplace officials feel it. And it's not the 
climate, it's not nerves, it's not any definite tendency that 
they can name or lay their finger on. Nor is it mere 
orientalising of the mind. It's something that first takes 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 479 

you from your common life, and that later takes common 
life from you. You willingly resign an unremunerative 
Present. There are no half-measures either — once the 
gates are open." 

There was so much undeniable truth in this that I found 
no corrective by way of strong rejoinder. All my attempts, 
indeed, were futile in this way. He meant to go ; my 
words could not stop him. He wanted a witness — he 
dreaded the loneliness of going — but he brooked no inter- 
ference. The contradictory position involved a perplexing 
state of heart and mind in both of us. The atmosphere of 
this majestic land, to-day so trifling, yesterday so immense, 
most certainly induced a lifting of the spiritual horizon that 
revealed amazing possibilities. 



VII 

It was in the windless days of a perfect December that 
Moleson, the Egyptologist, found us out and paid a flying 
visit to Helouan. His duties took him up and down the 
land, but his time seemed largely at his own disposal. He 
lingered on. His coming introduced a new element I was 
not quite able to estimate ; though, speaking generally, the 
effect of his presence upon my companion was to emphasise 
the latter's alteration. It underlined the change, and 
drew attention to it. The new arrival, I gathered, was not 
altogether welcome. " I should never have expected to 
find you here" laughed Moleson when they met, and 
whether he referred to Helouan or to the hotel was not 
quite clear. I got the impression he meant both ; I 
remembered my fancy that it was a good hotel to hide in. 
George Isley had betrayed a slight involuntary start when 
the visiting card was brought to him at tea-time. I think 



480 STRANGE STORIES 

he had wished to escape from his former co-worker. Mole- 
son had found him out. " I heard you had a friend with 
you and were contemplating further exper — work," he 
added. He changed the word " experiment " quickly to 
the other. 

" The former, as you see, is true, but not the latter," 
replied my companion dryly, and in his manner was a 
touch of opposition that might have been hostility. Their 
intimacy, I saw, was close and of old standing. In all they 
said and did and looked, there was an undercurrent of other 
meaning that just escaped me. They were up to some- 
thing — they had been up to something ; but Isley would 
have withdrawn if he could ! 

Moleson was an ambitious and energetic personality, 
absorbed in his profession, alive to the poetical as well as 
to the practical value of archaeology, and he made at first a 
wholly delightful impression upon me. An instinctive flair 
for his subject had early in life brought him success and 
a measure of fame as well. His knowledge was accurate 
and scholarly, his mind saturated in the lore of a vanished 
civilisation. Behind an exterior that was quietly careless, 
I divined a passionate and complex nature, and I watched 
him with interest as the man for whom the olden sun- 
worship of unscientific days held some beauty of reality and 
truth. Much in his strange book that had bewildered me 
now seemed intelligible when I saw the author. I cannot 
explain this more closely. Something about him somehow 
made it possible. Though modern to the finger-tips and 
thoroughly equipped with all the tendencies of the day, 
there seemed to hide in him another self that held aloof 
with a dignified detachment from the interests in which his 
" educated " mind was centred. He read living secrets 
beneath museum labels, I might put it. He stepped out of 
the days of the Pharaohs if ever man did, and I realised 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 481 

early in our acquaintance that this was the man who had 
exceptional powers of " resistance and self-protection," and 
was, in his particular branch of work, " unusual." In 
manner he was light and gay, his sense of humour strong, 
with a way of treating everything as though laughter was 
the sanest attitude towards life. There is, however, the 
laughter that hides — other things. Moleson, as I gathered 
from many clues of talk and manner and silence, was a 
deep and singular being. His experiences in Egypt, if any, 
he had survived admirably. There were at least two 
Molesons. I felt him more than double — multiple. 

In appearance tall, thin, and fleshless, with a dried-up 
skin and features withered as a mummy's, he said laugh- 
ingly that Nature had picked him physically for his " job " ; 
and, indeed, one could see him worming his way down 
narrow tunnels into the sandy tombs, and writhing along 
sunless passages of suffocating heat without too much 
personal inconvenience. Something sinuous, almost fluid 
in his mind expressed itself in his body too. He might go 
in any direction without causing surprise. He might go 
backwards or forwards. He might go in two directions at 
once. 

And my first impression of the man deepened before many 
days were past. There was irresponsibility in him, in- 
sincerity somewhere, almost want of heart. His morality 
was certainly not to-day's, and the mind in him was slippery. 
I think the modern world, to which he was unattached, 
confused and irritated him. A sense of insecurity came 
with him. His interest in George Isley was the interest in a 
psychological " specimen." I remembered how in his book 
he described the selection of individuals for certain functions 
of that marvellous worship, and the odd idea flashed 
through me — well, that Isley exactly suited some purpose of 
his re-creating energies. The man was keenly observant 



482 STRANGE STORIES 

from top to toe, but not with his sight alone ; he seemed to 
be aware of motives and emotions before he noticed the acts 
or gestures that these caused. I felt that he took me in as 
well. Certainly he eyed me up and down by means of this 
inner observation that seemed automatic with him. 

Moleson was not staying in our hotel ; he had chosen one 
where social life was more abundant ; but he came up 
frequently to lunch and dine, and sometimes spent the 
evening in Isley's rooms, amusing us with his skill upon the 
piano, singing Arab songs, and chanting phrases from the 
ancient Egyptian rituals to rhythms of his own invention. 
The old Egyptian music, both in harmony and melody, was 
far more developed than I had realised, the use of sound 
having been of radical importance in their ceremonies. 
The chanting in particular he did with extraordinary effect, 
though whether its success lay in his sonorous voice, his 
peculiar increasing of the vowel sounds, or in anything 
deeper, I cannot pretend to say. The result at any rate 
was of a unique description. It brought buried Egypt to 
the surface ; the gigantic Presence entered sensibly into the 
room. It came, huge and gorgeous, rolling upon the mind 
the instant he began, and something in it was both terrible 
and oppressive. The repose of eternity lay in the sound. 
Invariably, after a few moments of that transforming 
music, I saw the Valley of the Kings, the deserted temples, 
titanic faces of stone, great effigies coifed with zodiacal 
signs, but above all — the twin Colossi. 

I mentioned this last detail. 

" Curious you should feel that too — curious you should 
say it, I mean," Moleson replied, not looking at me, yet 
with an air as if I had said something he expected. " To 
me the Memnon figures express Egypt better than all the 
other monuments put together. Like the desert, they are 
featureless. They sum her up, as it were, yet leave the 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 4 8 3 

message unuttered. For, you see, they cannot." He 
laughed a little in his throat. " They have neither eyes nor 
lips nor nose ; their features are gone." 

" Yet they tell the secret — to those who care to listen," 
put in Isley in a scarcely noticeable voice. " Just because 
they have no words. They still sing at dawn," he added in 
a louder, almost a challenging tone. It startled me. 

Moleson turned round at him, opened his lips to speak, 
hesitated, stopped. He said nothing for a moment. I 
cannot describe what it was in the lightning glance they 
exchanged that put me on the alert for something other than 
was obvious. My nerves quivered suddenly, and a breath 
of colder air stole in among us. Moleson swung round to 
me again. " I almost think," he said, laughing when I 
complimented him upon the music, " that I must have been 
a priest of Aton-Ra in an earlier existence, for all this comes 
to my finger-tips as if it were instinctive knowledge. 
Plotinus, remember, lived a few miles away at Alexandria 
with his great idea that knowledge is recollection," he said, 
with a kind of cynical amusement. " In those days, at any 
rate," he added more significantly, " worship was real and 
ceremonials actually expressed great ideas and teaching. 
There was power in them." Two of the Molesons spoke in 
that contradictory utterance. 

I saw that Isley was fidgeting where he sat, betraying by 
certain gestures that uneasiness was in him. He hid his 
face a moment in his hands; he sighed; he made a 
movement— as though to prevent something coming. But 
Moleson resisted his attempt to change the conversation, 
though the key shifted a little of its own accord. There 
were numerous occasions like this when I was aware that 
both men skirted something that had happened, something 
that Moleson wished to resume, but that Isley seemed 
anxious to postpone. 



4 8 4 STRANGE STORIES 

I found myself studying Moleson's personality, yet never 
getting beyond a certain point. Shrewd, subtle, with an 
acute rather than a large intelligence, he was cynical as 
well as insincere, and yet I cannot describe by what means 
I arrived at two other conclusions as well about him : 
first, that this insincerity and want of heart had not been so 
always ; and, secondly, that he sought social diversion with 
deliberate and unordinary purpose. I could well believe 
that the first was Egypt's mark upon bim, and the second 
an effort at resistance and self-protection. 

" If it wasn't for the gaiety," he remarked once in a 
flippant way that thinly hid significance, " a man out here 
would go under in a year. Social life gets rather reckless — 
exaggerated — people do things they would never dream of 
doing at home. Perhaps you've noticed it," he added, 
looking suddenly at me; "Cairo and the rest— they 
plunge at it as though driven — a sort of excess about it 
somewhere." I nodded agreement. The way he said it 
was unpleasant rather. " It's an antidote," he said, a sub- 
acid flavour in his tone. " I used to loathe society myself. 
But now I find gaiety — a certain irresponsible excitement — 
of importance. Egypt gets on the nerves after a bit. The 
moral fibre fails. The will grows weak." And he glanced 
covertly at Isley as with a desire to point his meaning. 
" It's the clash between the ugly present and the majestic 
past, perhaps." He smiled. 

Isley shrugged his shoulders, making no reply ; and the 
other went on to" tell stories of friends and acquaintances 
whom Egypt had adversely affected : Barton, the Oxford 
man, school teacher, who had insisted in living in a tent 
until the Government relieved him of his job. He took to 
his tent, roamed the desert, drawn irresistibly, practical 
considerations of the present of no avail. This yearning 
took him, though he could never define the exact attraction. 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 485 

In the end his mental balance was disturbed. " But now 
he's all right again ; I saw him in London only this year ; 
he can't say what he felt or why he did it. Only — he's 
different." Of John Lattin, too, he spoke, whom agarapho- 
bia caught so terribly in Upper Egypt ; of Malahide, upon 
whom some fascination of the Nile induced suicidal mania 
and attempts at drowning ; of Jim Moleson, a cousin (who 
had camped at Thebes with himself and Isley), whom 
megalomania of a most singular type attacked suddenly in a 
sandy waste — all radically cured as soon as they left 
Egypt, yet, one and all, changed and made otherwise in 
their very souls. 

He talked in a loose, disjointed way, and though much he 
said was fantastic, as if meant to challenge opposition, 
there was impressiveness about it somewhere, due, I think, 
to a kind of cumulative emotion he produced. 

" The monuments do not impress merely by their bulk, 
but by their majestic symmetry," I remember him saying. 
"Look at the choice of form alone— the Pyramids, for 
instance. No other shape was possible : dome, square, 
spires, all would have been hideously inadequate. The 
wedge-shaped mass, immense foundations and pointed apex 
were the mot juste in outline. Do you think people without 
greatness in themselves chose that form ? There was no 
unbalance in the minds that conceived the harmonious and 
magnificent structures of the temples. There was stately 
grandeur in their consciousness that could only be born of 
truth and knowledge. The power in their images is a 
direct expression of eternal and essential things they 
knew." 

We listened in silence. He was off upon his hobby. 
But behind the careless tone and laughing questions there 
was this lurking passionateness that made me feel uncom- 
fortable. He was edging up, I felt, towards some climax 



486 STRANGE STORIES 

that meant life and death to himself and Isley. I could not 
fathom it. My sympathy let me in a little, yet not enough 
to understand completely. Isley, I saw, was also uneasy, 
though for reasons that equally evaded me. 

" One can almost believe," he continued, " that some- 
thing still hangs about in the atmosphere from those olden 
times." He half closed his eyes, but I caught the gleam in 
them. " It affects the mind through the imagination. 
With some it changes the point of view. It takes the soul 
back with it to former, quite different, conditions, that must 
have been almost another kind of consciousness." 

He paused an instant and looked up at us. "The 
intensity of belief in those days," he resumed, since neither 
of us accepted the challenge, " was amazing — something 
quite unknown anywhere in the world to-day. It was so 
sure, so positive ; no mere speculative theork s, I mean ; — 
as though something in the climate, the exact position 
beneath the stars, the " attitude " of this particular stretch 
of earth in relation to the sun — thinned the veil between 
humanity — and other things. Their hierarchies of gods, 
you know, were not mere idols ; animals, birds, monsters, 
and what-not, all typified spiritual forces and powers that 
influenced their daily life. But the strong thing is — they 
knew. People who were scientific as they were did not 
swallow foolish superstitions. They made colours that 
could last six thousand years, even in the open air; 
and without instruments they measured accurately — an 
enormously difficult and involved calculation — the preces- 
sion of the equinoxes. You've been to Denderah ? " — he 
suddenly glanced again at me. " No ! Well, the minds 
that realised the zodiacal signs could hardly believe, you 
know, that Hathor was a cow I " 

Isley coughed. He was about to interrupt, but before 
he could find words, Moleson was off again, some new 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 4 8 7 

quality in his tone and manner that was almost aggressive. 
The hints he offered seemed more than hints. There was a 
strange conviction in his heart. I think he was skirting a 
bigger thing that he and his companion knew, yet that his 
real object was to see in how far I was open to attack — how 
far my sympathy might be with them. I became aware that 
he and George Isley shared this bigger thing. It was based, 
I felt, on some certain knowledge that experiment had 
brought them. 

" Think of the grand teaching of Aknahton, that young 
Pharaoh who regenerated the entire land and brought it to 
its immense prosperity. He taught the worship of the sun, 
but not of the visible sun. The deity had neither form nor 
shape. The great disc of glory was but the manifestation, 
each beneficent ray ending in a hand that blessed the world. 
It was a god of everlasting energy, love and power, yet men 
could know it at first hand in their daily lives, worship- 
ping it at dawn and sunset with passionate devotion. No 
anthropomorphic idol masqueraded in that ! " 

An extraordinary glow was about him as he said it. The 
same minute he lowered his voice, shifting the key per- 
ceptibly. He kept looking up at me through half-closed 
eyelids. 

" And another thing they wonderfully knew," he almost 
whispered, " was that, with the precession of their deity 
across the equinoctial changes, there came new powers 
down into the world of men. Each cycle — each zodiacal 
sign — brought its special powers which they quickly 
typified in the monstrous effigies we label to-day in our dull 
museums. Each sign took some two thousand years to 
traverse. Each sign, moreover, involved a change in 
human consciousness. There was this relation between the 
heavens and the human heart. All that they knew. 
While the sun crawled through the sign of Taurus, it was the 



488 STRANGE STORIES 

Bull they worshipped ; with Aries, it was the ram that 
coifed their granite symbols . Then came, as you remember, 
with Pisces the great New Arrival, when already they sank 
from their grand zenith, and the Fish was taken as the 
emblem of the changing powers which the Christ embodied. 
For the human soul, they held, echoed the changes in the 
immense journey of the original deity, who is its source, 
across the Zodiac, and the truth of " As above, so Below " 
remains the key to all manifested life. And to-day the sun, 
just entering Aquarius, new powers are close upon the 
world. The old— that which has been for two thousand 
years— again is crumbling, passing, dying. New powers 
and a new consciousness are knocking at our doors. It is a 
time of change. It is also "—he leaned forward so that his 
eyes came close before me — " the time to make the change. 

The soul can choose its own conditions. It can " 

A sudden crash smothered the rest of the sentence. A 
chair had fallen with a clatter upon the wooden floor where 
the carpet left it bare. Whether Isley in rising had stumbled 
against it, or whether he had purposely knocked it over, I 
could not say. I only knew that he had abruptly risen and 
as abruptly sat down again. A curious feeling came to me 
that the sign was somehow prearranged. It was so sudden. 
His voice, too, was forced, I thought. 

" Yes, but we can do without all that, Moleson," he 
interrupted with acute abruptness. " Suppose we have a 
tune instead." 



VIII 

It was after dinner in his private room, and he had sat 
very silent in his corner until this sudden outburst. Mole- 
son got up quietly without a word and moved over to the 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 489 

piano. I saw — or was it imagination merely ? — a new 
expression slide upon his withered face. He meant mischief 
somewhere. 

From that instant — from the moment he rose and walked 
over the thick carpet — he fascinated me. The atmosphere 
his talk and stories had brought remained. His lean 
fingers ran over the keys, and at first he played fragments 
from popular musical comedies that were pleasant enough, 
but made no demand upon the attention. I heard them 
without listening. I was thinking of another thing — his 
walk. For the way he moved across those few feet of 
carpet had power in it. He looked different ; he seemed 
another man ; he was changed. I saw him curiously — as I 
sometimes now saw Isley too — bigger. In some manner 
that was both enchanting and oppressive, his presence from 
that moment drew my imagination as by an air of authority 
it held. 

I left my seat in the far corner and dropped into a chair 
beside the window, nearer to the piano. Isley, I then 
noticed, had also turned to watch him. But it was George 
Isley not quite as he was now. I felt rather than saw the 
change. Both men had subtly altered. They seemed 
extended, their outlines shadowy. 

Isley, alert and anxious, glanced up at the player, his 
mind of earlier years — for the expression of his face was 
plain — following the light music, yet with difficulty that 
involved effort, almost struggle. " Play that again, will 
you ? " I heard him say from time to time. He was trying 
to take hold of it, to climb back to a condition where that 
music had linked him to the present, to seize a mental 
structure that was gone, to grip hold tightly of it — only to 
find that it was too far forgotten and too fragile. It would 
not bear him. I am sure of it, and I can swear I divined his 
mood. He fought to realise himself as he had been, but in 



49° STRANGE STORIES 

vain. In his dim corner opposite I watched bim closely. 
The big black Bliithner blocked itself between us. Above 
it swayed the outline, lean and half shadowy, of Moleson as 
he played. A faint whisper floated through the room. 
" You are in Egypt." Nowhere else could this queer 
feeling of presentiment, of anticipation, have gained a 
footing so easily. I was aware of intense emotion in all 
three of us. The least reminder of To-day seemed ugly. I 
longed for some ancient forgotten splendour that was lost. 

The scene fixed my attention very steadily, for I was 
aware of something deliberate and calculated on Moleson's 
part. The thing was well considered in his mind, intention 
only half concealed. It was Egypt he interpreted by 
sound, expressing what in him was true, then observing its 
effect, as he led us cleverly towards — the past. Beginning 
with the present, he played persuasively, with penetration, 
with insistent meaning too. He had that touch which 
conjured up real atmosphere, and, at first, that atmosphere 
termed modern. He rendered vividly the note of London, 
passing from the jingles of musical comedy, nervous rag- 
times and sensuous Tango dances, into the higher strains of 
concert rooms and " cultured " circles. Yet not too 
abruptly. Most dexterously he shifted the level, and with 
it our emotion. I recognised, as in a parody, various ultra- 
modern thrills : the tumult of Strauss, the pagan sweetness 
of primitive Debussy, the weirdness and ecstasy of meta- 
physical Scriabin. The composite note of To-day in both 
extremes, he brought into this private sitting-room of the 
desert hotel, while George Isley, listening keenly, fidgeted 
iD his chair. 

" ' Apres-midi d'un Faune,' " said Moleson dreamily, 
answering the question as to what he played. " Debussy's, 
you know. And the thing before it was from ' Til Eulen- 
spiegel ' — Strauss, of course." 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 491 

He drawled, swaying slowly with the rhythm, and leaving 
pauses between the words. His attention was not wholly 
on his listener, and in the voice was a quality that increased 
my uneasy apprehension. I felt distress for Isley some- 
where. Something it seemed, was coming ; Moleson 
brought it. Unconsciously in his walk, it now appeared 
consciously in his music ; and it came from what was 
underground in him. A charm, a subtle change, stole oddly 
over the room. It stole over my heart as well. Some 
power of estimating left me, as though my mind were slip- 
ping backwards and losing familiar, common standards. 

" The true modern note in it, isn't there ? " he drawled ; 
" cleverness, I think — intellectual — surface ingenuity — no 
depth or permanence — just the sensational brilliance of 
To-day." He turned and stared at me fixedly an instant. 
" Nothing everlasting," he added impressively. " It tells 
everything it knows — because it's small enough " 

And the room turned pettier as he said it ; another, 
bigger shadow draped its little walls. Through the open 
windows came a stealthy gesture of eternity. The atmo- 
sphere stretched visibly. Moleson was playing a mar- 
vellous fragment from Scriabin's " Prometheus." It 
sounded thin and shallow. This modern music, all of it, 
was out of place and trivial. It was almost ridiculous. 
The scale of our emotion changed insensibly into a deeper 
thing that has no name in dictionaries, being of another age. 
And I glanced at the windows where stone columns framed 
dim sections of great Egypt listening outside. There was 
no moon ; only deep draughts of stars blazed, hanging in 
the sky. I thought with awe of the mysterious knowledge 
that vanished people had of these stars, and of the Sun's 
huge journey through the Zodiac. . . . 

And, with astonishing suddenness as of dream, there rose 
a pictured image against that starlit sky. Lifted into the 



492 STRANGE STORIES 

air, between heaven and earth, I saw float swiftly past a 
panorama of the stately temples, led by Denderah, Edfu, 
Abou Simbel. It paused, it hovered, it disappeared. 
Leaving incalculable solemnity behind it in the air, it 
ranished, and to see so vast a thing move at that easy yet 
unhasting speed unhinged some sense of measurement in 
me. It was, of course, I assured myself, mere memory 
objectified owing to something that the music summoned, 
yet the apprehension rose in me that the whole of Egypt 
presently would stream past in similar fashion— Egypt as 
she was in the zenith of her unrecoverable past. Behind 
the tinkling of the modern piano passed the rustling of a 
multitude, the tramping of countless feet on sand. ... It 
was singularly vivid. It arrested in me something that 
normally went flowing. . . . And when I turned my head 
towards the room to call attention to my strange experience, 
the eyes of Moleson, I saw, were laid upon my own. He 
stared at me. The light in them transfixed me, and I 
understood that the illusion was due in some manner to his 
evocation. Isley rose at the same moment from his chair. 
The thing I had vaguely been expecting had shifted closer. 
And the same moment the musician abruptly changed his key. 

" You may like this better," he murmured, half to 
himself, but in tones he somehow made echoing. " It's 
more suited to the place." There was a resonance in the 
voice as though it emerged from hollows underground. 
" The other seems almost sacrilegious — here." And his 
voice drawled off in the rhythm of slower modulations that 
he played. It had grown muffled. There was an im- 
pression, too, that he did not strike the piano, but that the 
music issued from himself. 

" Place ! What place f " asked Isley quickly. His head 
turned sharply as he spoke. His tone, in its remoteness, 
made me tremble. 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 493 

The musician laughed to himself. " I meant that this 
hotel seems really an impertinence," he murmured, leaning 
down upon the notes he played upon so softly and so well ; 
" and that it's but the thinnest kind of pretence — when 
you come to think of it. We are in the desert really. The 
Colossi are outside, and all the emptied temples. Or 
ought to be," he added, raising his tone abruptly with a 
glance at me. 

He straightened up and stared out into the starry sky 
past George Isley's shoulders. 

" That," he exclaimed with betraying vehemence, " is 
where we are and what we play to ! " His voice suddenly 
increased ; there was a roar in it. " That," he repeated, 
" is the thing that takes our hearts away." The volume of 
intonation was astonishing. 

For the way he uttered the monosyllable suddenly 
revealed the man beneath the outer sheath of cynicism 
and laughter, explained his heartlessness, his secret stream 
of life. He, too, was soul and body in the past. " That " 
revealed more than pages of descriptive phrases. His 
heart lived in the temple aisles, his mind unearthed for- 
gotten knowledge ; his soul had clothed itself anew in the 
seductive glory of antiquity : he dwelt with a quickening 
magic of existence in the reconstructed splendour of what 
most term only ruins. He and George Isley together had 
revivified a power that enticed them backwards ; but 
whereas the latter struggled still, the former had already 
made his permanent home there. The faculty in me that 
saw the vision of streaming temples saw also this — remorse- 
lessly definite. Moleson himself sat naked at that piano. 
I saw him clearly then. He no longer masqueraded 
behind his sneers and laughter. He, too, had long ago 
surrendered, lost himself, gone out, and from the place his 
soul now dwelt in he watched George Isley sinking down to 



494 STRANGE STORIES 

join him. He lived in ancient, subterranean Egypt. 
This great hotel stood precariously on the merest upper 
crust of desert. A thousand tombs, a hundred temples lay 
outside, within reach almost of our very voices. Moleson 
was merged with " that." 

This intuition flashed upon me like the picture in the sky ; 
and both were true. 

And, meanwhile, this other thing he played had a surge 
of power in it impossible to describe. It was sombre, huge 
and solemn. It conveyed the power that his walk con- 
veyed. There was distance in it, but a distance not of 
space alone. A remoteness of time breathed through it 
with that strange sadness and melancholy yearning that 
enormous interval brings. It marched, but very far away ; 
it held refrains that assumed the rhythms of a multitude 
the centuries muted ; it sang, but the singing was under- 
ground in passages that fine sand muffled. Lost, wandering 
winds sighed through it, booming. The contrast, after the 
modern, cheaper music, was dislocating. Yet the change 
had been quite naturally effected. 

" It would sound empty and monotonous elsewhere — in 
London, for instance," I heard Moleson drawling, as he 
swayed to and fro, " but here it is big and splendid — true. 
You hear what I mean," he added gravely. " You under- 
stand ? " 

" What is it ? " asked Isley thickly, before I could say a 
word. " I forget exactly. It has tears in it — more than I 
can bear." The end of his sentence died away in his 
throat. 

Moleson did not look at him as he answered. He looked 
at me. 

" You surely ought to know," he replied, the voice 
rising and falling as though the rhythm forced it. " You 
have heard it all before — that chant from the ritual we " 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 495 

Isley sprang up and stopped him. I did not hear the 
sentence complete. An extraordinary thought blazed into 
me that the voices of both men were not quite their own. I 
fancied — wild, impossible as it sounds — that I heard the 
twin Colossi singing to each other in the dawn. Stupendous 
ideas sprang past me, leaping. It seemed as though eternal 
symbols of the cosmos, discovered and worshipped in this 
ancient land, leaped into awful life. My consciousness 
became enveloping. I had the distressing feeling that ages 
slipped out of place and took me with them ; they domin- 
ated me ; they rushed me off my feet like water. I was 
drawn backwards. I, too, was changing — being changed. 

" I remember," said Isley softly, a reverence of worship 
in his voice. But there was anguish in it too, and pity ; he 
let the present go completely from him ; the last strands 
severed with a wrench of pain. I imagined I heard his soul 
pass weeping far away — below. 

" I'll sing it," murmured Moleson, " for the voice is 
necessary. The sound and rhythm are utterly divine ! " 



IX 



And forthwith his voice began a series of long-drawn 
cadences that seemed somehow the root-sounds of every 
tongue that ever was. A spell came over me I could touch 
and feel. A web encompassed me ; my arms and feet 
became entangled ; a veil of fine threads wove across my 
eyes. The enthralling power of the rhythm produced 
some magical movement in the soul. I was aware of life 
everywhere about me, far and near, in the dwellings of the 
dead, as also in the corridors of the iron hills. Thebes stood 
erect, and Memphis teemed upon the river banks. For the 



496 STRANGE STORIES 

modern world fell, swaying, at this sound that restored the 
past, and in this past both men before me lived and had their 
being. The storm of present life passed o'er their heads, 
while they dwelt underground, obliterated, gone. Upon 
the wave of sound they went down into their recovered 
kingdom. 

I shivered, moved vigorously, half rose up, then instantly 
sank back again, resigned and helpless. For I entered by 
their side, it seemed, the conditions of their strange cap- 
tivity. My thoughts, my feelings, my point of view were 
transplanted to another centre. Consciousness shifted in 
me. I saw things from another's point of view — antiquity's . 

The present forgotten but the past supreme, I lost 
Reality. Our room became a pin-point picture seen in a 
drop of water, while this subterranean world, replacing it, 
turned immense. My heart took on the gigantic, leisured 
stride of what had been. Proportions grew ; size captured 
me ; and magnitude, turned monstrous, swept mere 
measurement away. Some hand of golden sunshine picked 
me up and set me in the quivering web beside those other 
two. I heard the rustle of the settling threads ; I heard 
the shuffling of the feet in sand ; I heard the whispers 
in the dwellings of the dead. Behind the monotony of this 
sacerdotal music I heard them in their dim carved 
chambers. The ancient galleries were awake. The Life 
of unremembered ages stirred in multitudes about me. 

The reality of so incredible an experience evaporates 
through the stream of language. I can only affirm this 
singular proof — that the deepest, most satisfying knowledge 
the Present could offer seemed insignificant beside some 
stalwart majesty of the Past that utterly usurped it. This 
modern room, holding a piano and two figures of To-day, 
appeared as a paltry miniature pinned against a vast 
transparent curtain, whose foreground was thick with 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 497 

symbols of temple, sphinx and pyramid, but whose back- 
ground of stupendous hanging grey slid off towards a 
splendour where the cities of the Dead shook off their sand 
and thronged space to its ultimate horizons. . . . The 
stars, the entire universe, vibrating and alive, became 
involved in it. Long periods of time slipped past me. I 
seemed living ages ago. ... I was living backwards. . . . 

The size and eternity of Egypt took me easily. There 
was an overwhelming grandeur in it that elbowed out all 
present standards. The whole place towered and stood up. 
The desert reared, the very horizons lifted ; majestic 
figures of granite rose above the hotel, great faces hovered 
and drove past ; huge arms reached up to pluck the stars 
and set them in the ceilings of the labyrinthine tombs. 
The colossal meaning of the ancient land emerged through 
all its ruined details . . . reconstructed — burningly alive. 

It became at length unbearable. I longed for the 
droning sounds to cease, for the rhythm to lessen its 
prodigious sweep. My heart cried out for the gold of the 
sunlight on the desert, for the sweet air by the river's banks, 
for the violet lights upon the hills at dawn. And I resisted, 
I made an effort to return. 

" Your chant is horrible. For God's sake, let's have an 
Arab song — or the music of To-day ! " 

The effort was intense, the result was — nothing. I 
swear I used these words. I heard the actual sound of my 
voice, if no one else did, for I remember that it was pitiful 
in the way great space devoured it, making of its ap- 
preciable volume the merest whisper as of some bird or 
insect cry. But the figure that I took for Moleson, instead 
of answer or acknowledgment, merely grew and grew as 
things grow in a fairy tale. I hardly know ; I certainly 
cannot say. That dwindling part of me which offered 
comments on the entire occurrence noted this extraordinary 



498 STRANGE STORIES 

effect as though it happened naturally — that Moleson 
himself was marvellously increasing. 

The entire spell became operative all at once. I ex- 
perienced both the delight of complete abandonment and 
the terror of letting go what had seemed real. I under- 
stood Moleson's sham laughter, and the subtle resignation 
of George Isley. And an amazing thought flashed birdlike 
across my changing consciousness — that this resurrection 
into the Past, this rebirth of the spirit which they sought, 
involved taking upon themselves the guise of these ancient 
symbols each in turn. As the embryo assumes each 
evolutionary stage below it before the human semblance 
is attained, so the souls of those two adventurers took upon 
themselves the various emblems of that intense belief. The 
devout worshipper takes on the qualities of his deity. 
They wore the entire series of the old-world gods so potently 
that I perceived them, and even objectified them by my 
senses. The present was their pre-natal stage; to enter 
the past they were being born again. 

But it was not Moleson's semblance alone that took on 
this awful change. Both, faces, scaled to the measure of 
Egypt's outstanding quality of size, became in this little 
modern room distressingly immense. Distorting mirrors 
can suggest no simile, for the symmetry of proportion was 
not injured. I lost their human physiognomies. I saw 
their thoughts, their feelings, their augmented, altered 
hearts, the thing that Egypt put there while she stole their 
love from modern life. There grew an awful stateliness 
upon them that was huge, mysterious, and motionless as 
stone. 

For Moleson's narrow face at first turned hawklike in the 
semblance of the sinister deity, Horus, only stretched to 
tower above the toy-scaled piano ; it was keen and sly and 
monstrous after prey, while a swiftness of the sunrise 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 499 

leaped from both the brilliant eyes. George Isley, equally 
immense of outline, was in general presentment more 
magnificent, a breadth of the Sphinx about his spreading 
shoulders, and in his countenance an inscrutable power of 
calm temple images. These were the first signs of obsession; 
but others followed. In rapid series, like lantern-slides 
upon a screen, the ancient symbols flashed one after 
another across these two extended human faces and were 
gone. Disentanglement became impossible. The suc- 
cessive signatures seemed almost superimposed as in a 
composite photograph, each appearing and vanishing before 
recognition was even possible, while I interpreted the inner 
alchemy by means of outer tokens familiar to my senses. 
Egypt, possessing them, expressed herself thus marvellously 
in their physical aspect, using the symbols of her intense, 
regenerative power. . . . 

The changes merged with such swiftness into one another 
that I did not seize the half of them— till, finally, the 
procession culminated in a single one that remained fixed 
awfully upon them both. The entire series merged. I 
was aware of this single masterful image which summed up 
all the others in sublime repose. The gigantic thing rose up 
in this incredible statue form. The spirit of Egypt syn- 
thesised in this monstrous symbol, obliterated them both. 
I saw the seated figures of the grim Colossi, dipped in sand, 
night over them, waiting for the dawn. . . . 



X 

I made a violent effort, then, at self-assertion — an effort 
to focus my mind upon the present. And, searching for 
Moleson and George Isley, its nearest details, I was aware 



500 STRANGE STORIES 

that I could not find them. The familiar figures of my two 
companions were not discoverable. 

I saw it as plainly as I also saw that ludicrous, wee piano 
— for a moment. But the moment remained ; the Eternity 
of Egypt stayed. For that lonely and terrific pair had 
stooped their shoulders and bowed their awful heads. 
They were in the room. They imaged forth the power of 
the everlasting Past through the little structures of two 
human worshippers. Room, walls, and ceiling fled away. 
Sand and the open sky replaced them. 

The two of them rose side by side before my bursting 
eyes. I knew not where to look. Like some child who 
confronts its giants upon the nursery floor, I turned to 
stone, unable to think or move. I stared. Sight wrenched 
itself to find the men familiar to it, but found instead this 
symbolising vision. I could not see them properly. Their 
faces were spread with hugeness, their features lost in some 
uncommon magnitude, their shoulders, necks, and arms 
grown vast upon the air. As with the desert, there was 
physiognomy yet no personal expression, the human thing 
all drowned within the mass of battered stone. I discovered 
neither cheeks nor mouth nor jaw, but ruined eyes and 
lips of broken granite. Huge, motionless, mysterious, 
Egypt informed them and took them to herself. And 
between us, curiously presented in some false perspective, 
I saw the little symbol of To-day— the Bluthner piano. 
It was appalling. I knew a second of majestic horror. 
I blenched. Hot and cold gushed through me. Strength 
left me, power of speech and movement too, as in a 
moment of complete paralysis. 

The spell, moreover, was not within the room alone ; it 
was outside and everywhere. The Past stood massed about 
the very walls of the hotel. Distance, as well as time, 
stepped nearer. That chanting summoned the gigantic 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 5°* 

items in all their ancient splendour. The shadowy con- 
course grouped itself upon the sand about us, and I was 
aware that the great army shifted noiselessly into place ; 
that pyramids soared and towered ; that deities of stone 
stood by ; that temples ranged themselves in reconstructed 
beauty, grave as the night of time whence they emerged ; 
and that the outline of the Sphinx, motionless but aggressive, 
piled its dim bulk upon the atmosphere. Immensity 
answered to immensity. . . . There were vast intervals 
of time and there were reaches of enormous distance, yet 
all happened in a moment, and all happened within a little 
space. It was now and here. Eternity whispered in every 
second as in every grain of sand. Yet, while aware of so 
many stupendous details all at once, I was really aware of 
one thing only— that the spirit of ancient Egypt faced me 
in these two terrific figures, and that my consciousness, 
stretched painfully yet gloriously, included all, as She also 
unquestionably included them — and me. 

For it seemed I shared the likeness of my two com- 
panions. Some lesser symbol, though of similar kind, 
obsessed me too. I tried to move, but my feet were set in 
stone ; my arms lay fixed ; my body was embedded in the 
rock. Sand beat sharply upon my outer surface, urged 
upwards in little flurries by a chilly wind. There was 
nothing felt : I beard the rattle of the scattering grains 
against my hardened body. . . . 

And we waited for the dawn ; for the resurrection of 
that unchanging deity who was the source and inspiration 
of all our glorious life. . . . The air grew keen and fresh. 
In the distance a line of sky turned from pink to violet 
and gold ; a delicate rose next flushed the desert ; a few 
pale stars hung fainting overhead ; and the wind that 
brought the sunrise was already stirring. The whole land 
paused upon the coming of its mighty God. . . . 



5Q2 STRANGE STORIES 

Into the pause there rose a curious sound for which we 
had been waiting. For it came familiarly, as though 
expected. I could have sworn at first that it was George 
Isley who sang, answering his companion. There beat 
behind its great volume the same note and rhythm, only 
so prodigiously increased that, while Moleson's chant had 
waked it, it now was independent and apart. The resonant 
vibrations of what he sang had reached down into the 
places where it slept. They uttered synchronously. Egypt 
spoke. There was in it the deep muttering as of a thousand 
drums, as though the desert uttered in prodigious syllables. 
I listened while my heart of stone stood still. There were 
two voices in the sky. They spoke tremendously with 
each other in the dawn : 

" So easily we still remain possessors of the land. . . . 
While the centuries roar past us and are gone." 

Soft with power the syllables rolled forth, yet with a boom- 
ing depth as though caverns underground produced them. 

" Our silence is disturbed. Pass on with the multitude 
towards the East. . . . Still in the dawn we sing the old- 
world wisdom. . . . They shall hear our speech, yet shall 
not hear it with their ears of flesh. At dawn our words 
go forth, searching the distances of sand and time across 
the sunlight. ... At dusk they return, as upon eagles' 
wings, entering again our lips of stone. . . . Each century 
one syllable, yet no sentence yet complete. While our lips 
are broken with the utterance. ..." 

It seemed that hours and months and years went past 
me while I listened in my sandy bed. The fragments died 
far away, then sounded very close again. It was as though 
mountain peaks sang to one another above clouds. Wind 
caught the muffled roar away. Wind brought it back. . . . 
Then, in a hollow pause that lasted years, conveying 
marvellously the passage of long periods, I heard the 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 503 

utterance more clearly. The leisured roll of the great voice 
swept through me like a flood : 

" We wait and watch and listen in our loneliness. We 
do not close our eyes. The moon and stars sail past us, 
and our river finds the sea. We bring Eternity upon your 
broken lives. . . . We see you build your little lines of 
steel across our territory behind the thin white smoke. 
We hear the whistle of your messengers of iron through 
the air. . . . The nations rise and pass. The empires 
flutter westwards and are gone. . . . The sun grows older 
and the stars turn pale. . . . Winds shift the line of the 
horizons, and our River moves its bed. But we, everlasting 
and unchangeable, remain. Of water, sand and fire is our 
essential being, yet built within the universal air. . . There 
is no pause in life, there is no break in death. The changes 
bring no end. The sun returns. . . . There is eternal 
resurrection. . . . But our kingdom is underground in 
shadow, unrealised of your little day. . . . Come, come ! 
The temples still are crowded, and our Desert blesses you. 
Our River takes your feet. Our sand shall purify, and the 
fire of our God shall burn you sweetly into wisdom. . . . 
Come, then, and worship, for the time draws near. It is 
the dawn. . . ." 

The voices died down into depths that the sand of ages 
muffled, while the flaming dawn of the East rushed up the 
sky. Sunrise, the great symbol of life's endless resur- 
rection, was at hand. About me, in immense but shadowy 
array, stood the whole of ancient Egypt, hanging breathlessly 
upon the moment of adoration. No longer stern and 
terrible in the splendour of their long neglect, the effigies 
rose erect with passionate glory, a forest of stately stone. 
Their granite lips were parted and their ancient eyes were 
wide. All fciced the east. And the sun drew nearer to 
the rim of the attentive Desert. 



504 STRANGE STORIES 



XI 



Emotion there seemed none, in the sense that I knew 
feeling. I knew, if anything, the ultimate secrets of two 
primitive sensations — joy and awe. . . . The dawn grew 
swiftly brighter. There was gold, as though the sands of 
Nubia split their brilliance on each shining detail ; there 
was glory, as though the retreating tide of stars spilt their 
light foam upon the world ; and there was passion, as 
though the beliefs of all the ages floated back with abandon- 
ment into the— Sun. Ruined Egypt merged into a single 
temple of elemental vastness whose floor was the empty 
desert, but whose walls rose to the stars. 

Abruptly, then, chanting and rhythm ceased; they 
dipped below. Sand muffled them. And the Sun looked 
down upon its ancient world. . . . 

A radiant warmth poured through me. I found that I 
could move my limbs again. A sense of triumphant life 
ran through my stony frame. For one passing second I 
heard the shower of gritty particles upon my surface like 
sand blown upwards by a gust of wind, but this time I 
could feel the sting of it upon my skin. It passed. The 
drenching heat bathed me from head to foot, while stony 
insensibility gave place with returning consciousness to 
flesh and blood. The sun had risen. ... I was alive, but 
I was — changed. 

It seemed I opened my eyes. An immense relief was 
in me. I turned ; I drew a deep, refreshing breath ; I 
stretched one leg upon a thick, green carpet. Something 
had left me ; another thing had returned. I sat up, 
conscious of welcome release, of freedom, of escape. 

There was some violent, disorganising break. I found 
myself ; I found Moleson ; I found George Isley too. He 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 505 

had got shifted in that room without my being aware of 
it. Isley had risen. He came upon me like a blow. I 
saw him move his arms. Fire flashed from below his hands ; 
and I realised then that he was turning on the electric lights. 
They emerged from different points along the walls, in the 
alcove, beneath the ceiling, by the writing-table ; and one 
had just that minute blazed into my eyes from a bracket 
close above me. I was back again in the Present among 
modern things. 

But, while most of the details presented themselves 
gradually to my recovered senses, Isley returned with this 
curious effect of speed and distance — like a blow upon the 
mind. From great height and from prodigious size — he 
dropped. I seemed to find him rushing at me. Moleson 
was simply " there " ; there was no speed or sudden change 
in him as with the other. Motionless at the piano, his 
long thin hands lay down upon the keys yet did not strike 
them. But Isley came back like lightning into the little 
room, signs of the monstrous obsession still about his 
altering features. There was battle and worship mingled 
in his deep-set eyes. His mouth, though set, was smiling. 
With a shudder I positively saw the vastness slipping from 
his face as shadows from a stretch of broken cliff. There 
was this awful mingling of proportions. The colossal power 
that had resumed his being drew slowly inwards. There 
was collapse in him. And upon the sunburned cheek of 
his rugged face I saw a tear. 

Poignant revulsion caught me then for a moment. The 
present showed itself in rags. The reduction of scale was 
painful. I yearned for the splendour that was gone, yet 
still seemed so hauntingly almost within reach. The 
cheapness of the hotel room, the glaring ugliness of its 
tinsel decoration, the baseness of ideals where utility 
instead of beauty, gain instead of worship, governed life— 

B. 



506 STRANGE STORIES 

this, with the dwindled aspect of my companions to the 
insignificance of marionettes, brought a hungry pain that 
was at first intolerable. In the glare of light I noticed the 
small round face of the portable clock upon the mantelpiece, 
showing half-past eleven. Moleson had been two hours 
at the piano. And this measuring faculty of my mind 
completed the disillusionment. I was, indeed, back among 
present things. The mechanical spirit of To-day im- 
prisoned me again. 

For a considerable interval we neither moved nor spoke ; 
the sudden change left the emotions in confusion ; we had 
leaped from a height, from the top of the pyramid, from a 
star — and the crash of landing scattered thought. I stole 
a glance at Isley, wondering vaguely why he was there at 
all ; the look of resignation had replaced the power in his 
face ; the tear was brushed away. There was no struggle 
in him now, no sign of resistance ; there was abandonment 
only ; he seemed insignificant. The real George Isley was 
elsewhere ; he himself had not returned. 

By jerks, as it were, and by awkward stages, then, we 
all three came back to common things again. I found that 
we were talking ordinarily, asking each other questions, 
answering, lighting cigarettes, and all the rest. Moleson 
played some commonplace chords upon the piano, while 
he leaned back listlessly in his chair, putting in sentences 
now and again and chatting idly to whichever of us would 
listen. And Isley came slowly across the room towards 
me, holding out cigarettes. His dark brown face had 
shadows on it. He looked exhausted, worn, like some 
soldier broken in the wars. 

" You liked it ? " I heard his thin voice asking. There 
was no interest, no expression ; it was not the real Isley 
who spoke ; it was the little part of him that had come 
back. He smiled like a marvellous automaton. 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 507 

Mechanically I took the cigarette he offered me, thinking 
confusedly what answer I could make. 

" It's irresistible," I murmured ; " I understand that 
it's easier to go." 

" Sweeter as well," he whispered with a sigh, " and very 
wonderful ! " 



XII 

The hand that lit my cigarette, I saw, was trembling. 
A desire to do something violent woke in me suddenly — to 
move energetically, to push or drive something away. 

" What was it ? " I asked abruptly, in a louder, half- 
challenging voice, intended for the man at the piano. 
" Such a performance — upon others — without first asking 
their permission — seems to me unpermissible — it's " 

And it was Moleson who replied. He ignored the end 
of my sentence as though he had not heard it. He strolled 
over to our side, taking a cigarette and pressing it carefully 
into shape between his long thin fingers. 

" You may well ask," he answered quietly ; " but it's 
not so easy to tell. We discovered it " — he nodded towards 
Isley — " two years ago in the ' Valley.' It lay beside a 
Priest, a very important personage, apparently, and was 
part of the Ritual he used in the worship of the sun. In 
the Museum now — you can see it any day at the Boulak — 
it is simply labelled ' Hymn to Ra.' The period was 
Aknahton's." 

" The words, yes," put in Isley, who was listening 
closely. 

" The words ? " repeated Moleson in a curious tone. 
" There are no words. It's all really a manipulation of 
the vowel sounds. And the rhythm, or chanting, or what- 



508 STRANGE STORIES 

ever you like to call it, I — I invented myself. The Egyptians 
did not write their music, you see." He suddenly searched 
my face a moment with questioning eyes. " Any words 
you heard," he said, " or thought you heard, were merely 
your own interpretation." 

I stared at him, making no rejoinder. 

" They made use of what they called a ' root-language ' 
in their rituals," he went on, " and it consisted entirely of 
vowel sounds. There were no consonants. For vowel 
sounds, you see, run on for ever without end or beginning, 
whereas consonants interrupt their flow and break it up 
and limit it. A consonant has no sound of its own at all. 
Real language is continuous." 

We stood a moment, smoking in silence. I understood 
then that this thing Moleson had done was based on 
definite knowledge. He had rendered some fragment of 
an ancient Ritual he and Isley had unearthed together, 
and while he knew its effect upon the latter, he chanced it 
on myself. Not otherwise, I feel, could it have influenced 
me in the extraordinary way it did. In the faith and 
poetry of a nation lies its soul-life, and the gigantic faith of 
Egypt blazed behind the rhythm of that long, monotonous 
chant. There were blood and heart and nerves in it. 
Millions had heard it sung ; millions had wept and prayed 
and yearned ; it was ensouled by the passion of that 
marvellous civilisation that loved the godhead of the Sun, 
and that now hid, waiting but still alive, below the ground. 
The majestic faith of ancient Egypt poured up with it — 
that tremendous, burning elaboration of the after-life and 
of Eternity that was the pivot of those spacious days. 
For centuries vast multitudes, led by their royal priests, 
had uttered this very form and ritual — believed it, lived 
it, felt it. The rising of the sun remained its climax. Its 
spiritual power still clung to the great ruined symbols. 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 509 

The faith of a buried civilisation had burned back into the 
present and into our hearts as well. 

And a curious respect for the man who was able to 
produce this effect upon two modern minds crept over me, 
and mingled with the repulsion that I felt. I looked 
furtively at his withered, dried-up features. He wore some 
vague and shadowy impress still of what had just been in 
him. There was a stony appearance in his shrunken cheeks. 
He looked smaller. I saw him lessened. I thought of him 
as he had been so short a time before, imprisoned in his 
great stone captors that had obsessed him. . . . 

" There's tremendous power in it — an awful power," I 
stammered, more to break the oppressive pause than for 
any desire in me to speak with him. " It brings back 
Egypt in some extraordinary way — ancient Egypt, I mean 
— brings it close — into the heart." My words ran on of 
their own accord almost. I spoke with a hush, unwittingly. 
There was awe in me. Isley had moved away towards the 
window, leaving me face to face with this strange incarnation 
of another age. 

" It must," he replied, deep light still glowing in his 
eyes, " for the soul of the old days is in it. No one, I think, 
can hear it and remain the same. It expresses, you see, 
the essential passion and beauty of that gorgeous worship, 
that splendid faith, that reasonable and intelligent worship 
of the sun, the only scientific belief the world has ever 
known. Its popular form, of course, was largely super- 
stitious, but the sacerdotal form — the form used by the 
priests, that is — who understood the relationship between 
colour, sound and symbol, was " 

He broke off suddenly, as though he had been speaking 
to himself. We sat down. George Isley leaned out of 
the window with his back to us, watching the desert in the 
moonless night. 



5io STRANGE STORIES 

" You have tried its effect before upon — others ?" I 
asked point-blank. 

" Upon myself," he answered shortly. 

" Upon others ? " I insisted. 

He hesitated an instant. 

" Upon one other — yes," he admitted. 

" Intentionally ? " And something quivered in me as 
I asked it. 

He shrugged his shoulders slightly. " I'm merely a 
speculative archaeologist," he smiled, " and — and an 
imaginative Egyptologist. My bounden duty is to recon- 
struct the past so that it lives for others." 

An impulse rose in me to take him by the throat. 

" You know perfectly well, of course, the magical effect 
it's sure — likely at least — to have ? " 

He stared steadily at me through the cigarette smoke. 
To this day I cannot think exactly what it was in this man 
that made me shudder. 

" I'm sure of nothing," he replied smoothly, " but I 
consider it quite legitimate to try. Magical — the word you 
used — has no meaning for me. If such a thing exists, it 
is merely scientific — undiscovered or forgotten knowledge." 
An insolent, aggressive light shone in his eyes as he spoke ; 
his manner was almost truculent. " You refer, I take it, 
to — our friend — rather than to yourself 1 " 

And with difficulty I met his singular stare. From his 
whole person something still emanated that was forbidding, 
yet overmasteringly persuasive. It brought back the 
notion of that invisible Web, that dim gauze curtain, that 
motionless Influence lying waiting at the centre for its 
prey, those monstrous and mysterious Items standing, 
alert and watchful, through the centuries. " You mean," 
he added lower, " his altered attitude to life — his going i " 

To hear him use the words, the very phrase, struck me 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 511 

with sudden chill. Before I could answer, however, and 
certainly before I could master the touch of horror that 
rushed over me, I heard him continuing in a whisper. It 
seemed again that he spoke to himself as much as he spoke 
to me. 

" The soul, I suppose, has the right to choose its own 
conditions and surroundings. To pass elsewhere involves 
translation, not extinction." He smoked a moment in 
silence, then said another curious thing, looking up into 
my face with an expression of intense earnestness. Some- 
thing genuine in him again replaced the pose of cynicism. 
" The soul is eternal and can take its place anywhere, 
regardless of mere duration. What is there in the vulgar 
and superficial Present that should hold it so exclusively ; 
and where can it find to-day the belief, the faith, the beauty 
that are the very essence of its life — where in the rush and 
scatter of this tawdry age can it make its home ? Shall 
it flutter for ever in a valley of dry bones, when a living 
Past lies ready and waiting with loveliness, strength, and 
glory ? " He moved closer ; he touched my arm ; I felt 
his breath upon my face. " Come with us," he whispered 
awfully ; " come back with us ! Withdraw your life from 
the rubbish of this futile ugliness ! Come back and worship 
with us in the spirit of the Past. Take up the old, old 
splendour, the glory, the immense conceptions, the won- 
drous certainty, the ineffable knowledge of essentials. It 
all lies about you still ; it's calling, ever calling ; it's very 
close ; it draws you day and night — calling, calling, 
calling. . . ." 

His voice died off curiously into distance on the word ; 
I can hear it to this day, and the soft, droning quality in 
the intense yet fading tone : " Calling, calling, calling." 
But his eyes turned wicked. I felt the sinister power of 
the man. I was aware of madness in his thought and mind. 



512 STRANGE STORIES 

The Past he sought to glorify I saw black, as with the 
forbidding Egyptian darkness of a plague. It was not 
beauty but Death that I heard calling, calling, calling. 

" It's real," he went on, hardly aware that I shrank, 
" and not a dream. These ruined symbols still remain in 
touch with that which was. They are potent to-day as 
they were six thousand years ago. The amazing life of 
those days brims behind them. They are not mere masses 
of oppressive stone ; they express in visible form great 
powers that still are — know able." He lowered his head, 
peered up into my face, and whispered. Something secret 
passed into his eyes. 

" I saw you change," came the words below his breath, 
" as you saw the change in us. But only worship can 
produce that change. The soul assumes the qualities of 
the deity it worships. The powers of its deity possess it 
and transform it into its own likeness. You also felt it. 
You also were possessed. I saw the stone-faced deity upon 
your own." 

I seemed to shake myself as a dog shakes water from 
its body. I stood up. I remember that I stretched my 
hands out as though to push him from me and expel some 
creeping influence from my mind. I remember another 
thing as well. But for the reality of the sequel, and but 
for the matter-of-fact result still facing me to-day in the 
disappearance of George Isley — the loss to the present time 
of all George Isley was — I might have found subject for 
laughter in what I saw. Comedy was in it certainly. Yet 
it was both ghastly and terrific. Deep horror crept below 
the aspect of the ludicrous, for the apparent mimicry 
cloaked truth. It was appalling because it was real. 

In the large mirror that reflected the room behind me 
I saw myself and Moleson ; I saw Isley too in the back- 
ground by the open window. And the attitude of all three 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 513 

was the attitude of hieroglyphics come to life. My arms 
indeed were stretched, but not stretched, as I had thought, 
in mere self-defence. They were stretched — unnaturally. 
The forearms made those strange obtuse angles that the 
old carved granite wears, the palms of the hands held 
upwards, the heads thrown back, the legs advanced, the 
bodies stiffened into postures that expressed forgotten, 
ancient minds. The physical conformation of all three 
was monstrous ; and yet reverence and truth dictated even 
the uncouthness of the gestures. Something in all three 
of us inspired the forms our bodies had assumed. Our 
attitudes expressed buried yearnings, emotions, tendencies 
' — whatever they may be termed — that the spirit of the 
Past evoked. 

I saw the reflected picture but for a moment. I dropped 
my arms, aware of foolishness in my way of standing. 
Moleson moved forward with his long, significant stride, 
and at the same instant Isley came up quickly and joined 
us from his place by the open window. We looked into 
each other's faces without a word. There was this little 
pause that lasted perhaps ten seconds. But in that pause 
I felt the entire world slide past me. I heard the centuries 
rush by at headlong speed. The present dipped away. 
Existence was no longer in a line that stretched two ways ; 
it was a circle in which ourselves, together with Past and 
Future, stood motionless at the centre, all details equally 
accessible at once. The three of us were falling, falling 
backwards. . . . 

" Come ! " said the voice of Moleson solemnly, but with 
the sweetness as of a child anticipating joy. " Come ! 
Let us go together, for the boat of Ra has crossed the 
Underworld. The darkness has been conquered. Let us 
go out together and find the dawn. Listen ! It is calling, 
calling, calling. . . ." 



5H STRANGE STORIES 

XIII 

I was aware of rushing, but it was the soul in me that 
rushed. It experienced dizzy, unutterable alterations. 
Thousands of emotions, intense and varied, poured through 
me at lightning speed, each satisfyingly known, yet gone 
before its name appeared. The life of many centuries tore 
headlong back with me, and, as in drowning, this epitome 
of existence shot in a few seconds the steep slopes the Past 
had so laboriously built up. The changes flashed and passed 
I wept and prayed and worshipped ; I loved and suffered ; 
I battled, lost and won. Down the gigantic scale of ages 
that telescoped thus into a few brief moments, the soul in me 
went sliding backwards towards a motionless, reposeful Past. 

I remember foolish details that interrupted the immense 
descent — I put on coat and hat ; I remember some one's 
words, strangely sounding as when some bird wakes up 
and sings at mignight — " We'll take the little door ; the 
front one's locked by now " ; and I have a vague recol- 
lection of the outline of the great hotel, with its colonnades 
and terraces, fading behind me through the air. But these 
details merely flickered and disappeared, as though I fell 
earthwards from a star and passed feathers or blown leaves 
upon the way. There was no friction as my soul dropped 
backwards into time ; the flight was easy and silent as a 
dream. I ielt myself sucked down into gulfs whose empti- 
ness offered no resistance . . . until at last the appalling 
speed decreased of its own accord, and the dizzy flight 
became a kind of gentle floating. It changed imper- 
ceptibly into a gliding motion, as though the angle altered. 
My feet, quite naturally, were on the ground, moving 
through something soft that clung to them and rustled 
while it clung. 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 515 

I looked up and saw the bright armies of the stars. 
In front of me I recognised the flat-topped, shadowy 
ridges ; on both sides lay the open expanses of familiar 
wilderness ; and beside me, one on either hand, moved two 
figures who were my companions. We were in the desert, 
but it was the desert of thousands of years ago. My com- 
panions, moreover, though familiar to some part of me, 
seemed strangers or half known. Their names I strove in 
vain to capture ; Mosely, Ilson, sounded in my head, 
mingled together falsely. And when I stole a glance at 
them, I saw dark lines of mannikins unfilled with substance, 
and was aware of the grotesque gestures of living hiero- 
glyphics. It seemed for an instant that their arms were 
bound behind their backs impossibly, and that their heads 
turned sharply across their lineal shoulders. 

But for a moment only ; for at a second glance I saw 
them solid and compact ; their names came back to me ; 
our arms were linked together as we walked. We had 
already covered a great distance, for my limbs were aching 
and my breath was short. The air was cold, the silence 
absolute. It seemed, in this faint light, that the desert 
flowed beneath our feet, rather than that we advanced by 
taking steps. Cliffs with hooded tops moved past us, 
boulders glided, mounds of sand slid by. And then I heard 
a voice upon my left that was surely Moleson speaking : 

"Towards Enet our feet are set," he half sang, half 
murmured, " towards Enet-te-ntore. There, in the House 
of Birth, we shall dedicate our hearts and lives anew." 

And the language, no less than the musical intonation 
of his voice, enraptured me. For I understood he spoke 
of Denderah, in whose majestic temple recent hands had 
painted with deathless colours the symbols of our cosmic 
relationships with the zodiacal signs. And Denderah was 
our great seat of worship of the goddess Hathor, the 



516 STRANGE STORIES 

Egyptian Aphrodite, bringer of love and joy. The falcon- 
headed Horus was her husband, from whom, in his home 
at Edfu, we imbibed swift kinds of power. And — it was 
the time of the New Year, the great feast when the forces 
of the living earth turn upwards into happy growth. 

We were on foot across the desert towards Denderah, 
and this sand we trod was thesandof thousandsof years ago. 

The paralysis of time and distance involved some amazing 
lightness of the spirit that, I suppose, touched ecstasy. 
There was intoxication in the soul. I was not divided 
from the stars, nor separate from this desert that rushed 
with us. The unhampered wind blew freshly from my 
nerves and skin, and the Nile, glimmering faintly on our 
right, lay with its lapping waves in both my hands. I knew 
the life of Egypt, for it was in me, over me, round me. I 
was a part of it. We went happily, like birds to meet 
the sunrise. There were no pits of measured time and 
interval that could detain us. We flowed, yet were at 
rest ; we were endlessly alive ; present and future alike 
were inconceivable ; we were in the Kingdom of the Past. 

The Pyramids were just a-building, and the army of 
Obelisks looked about them, proud of their first balance ; 
Thebes swung her hundred gates upon the world. New, 
shining Memphis glittered with myriad reflections into 
waters that the tears of Isis sweetened, and the cliffs of 
Abou Simbel were still innocent of their gigantic progeny. 
Alone, the Sphinx, linking timelessness with time, brooded 
unguessed and underived upon an alien world. We 
marched within antiquity towards Denderah. . . . 

How long we marched, how fast, how far we went, I 
can remember as little as the marvellous speech that passed 
across me while my two companions spoke together. I 
only remember that suddenly a wave of pain disturbed my 
wondrous happiness and caused my calm, which had seemed 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 517 

beyond all reach of break, to fall away. I heard their 
voices abruptly with a kind of terror. A sensation of fear, 
of loss, of nightmare bewilderment came over me like cold 
wind. What they lived naturally, true to their inmost 
hearts, J lived merely by means of a temperamental sym- 
pathy. And the stage had come at which my powers 
failed. Exhaustion overtook me. I wilted. The strain — 
the abnormal backwards stretch of consciousness that was 
put upon me by another — gave way and broke. I heard 
their voices faint and horrible. My joy was extinguished. 
A glare of horror fell upon the desert and the stars seemed 
evil. An anguishing desire for the safe and wholesome 
Present usurped all this mad yearning to obtain the Past. 
My feet fell out of step. The rushing of the desert paused. 
I unlinked my arms. We stopped all three. 

The actual spot is to this day well known to me. I found 
it afterwards, I even photographed it. It lies actually not 
far from Helouan— a few miles at most beyond the Solitary 
Palm, where slopes of undulating sand mark the opening 
of a strange, enticing valley called the Wadi Gerraui. 
And it is enticing because it beckons and leads on. Here, 
amid torn gorges of a limestone wilderness, there is suddenly 
soft yellow sand that flows and draws the feet onward. 
It slips away with one too easily ; always the next ridge 
and basin must be seen, each time a little farther. It has 
the quality of decoying. The cliffs say, No; but this 
streaming sand invites. In its flowing curves of gold there 
is enchantment. 

And it was here upon its very lips we stopped, the 
rhythm of our steps broken, our hearts no longer one. My 
temporary rapture vanished. I was aware of fear. For 
the Present rushed upon me with attack in it, and I felt 
that my mind was arrested close upon the edge of madness. 
Something clea-ed and lifted in my brain. 



5*8 STRANGE STORIES 

The soul, indeed, could " choose its dwelling-place " ; 
but to live elsewhere completely was the choice of madness, 
and to live divorced from all the sweet wholesome business 
of To-day involved an exile that was worse than madness. 
It was death. My heart burned for George Isley. I 
remembered the tear upon his cheek. The agony of his 
struggle I shared suddenly with him. Yet with him was 
the reality, with me a sympathetic reflection merely. He 
was already too far gone to fight. . . . 

I shall never forget the desolation of that strange scene 
beneath the morning stars. The desert lay down and 
watched us. We stood upon the brink of a little broken 
ridge, looking into the valley of golden sand. This sand 
gleamed soft and wonderful in the starlight some twenty 
feet below. The descent was easy — but I would not move. 
I refused to advance another step. I saw my companions 
in the mysterious half-light beside me peering over the 
edge, Moleson in front a little. 

And I turned to him, sure of the part I meant to play, 
yet conscious painfully of my helplessness. My personality 
seemed a straw in mid-stream that spun in a futile effort 
to arrest the flood that bore it. There was vivid human 
conflict in the moment's silence. It was an eddy that 
paused in the great body of the tide. And then I spoke. 
Oh, I was ashamed of the insignificance of my voice and 
the weakness of my little personality. 

" Moleson, we go no farther with you. We have already 
come too far. We now turn back." 

Behind my words were a paltry thirty years. His answer 
drove sixty centuries against me. For his voice was like 
the wind that passed whispering down the stream of yellow 
sand below us. He smiled. 

" Our feet are set towards Enet-te-ntore. There is no 
turning back. Listen ! It is calling, calling, calling ! " 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 519 

" We will go home," I cried, in a tone I vainly strove to 
make imperative. 

" Our home is there," he sang, pointing with one long 
thin arm towards the brightening east, " for the Temple 
calls us and the River takes our feet. We shall be in the 
House of Birth to meet the sunrise " 

" You lie," I cried again, " you speak the lies of madness, 
and this Past you seek is the House of Death. It is the 
kingdom of the underworld." 

The words tore wildly, impotently out of me. I seized 
George Isley's arm. 

" Come back with me," I pleaded vehemently, my heart 
aching with a nameless pain for him. " We'll retrace our 
steps. Come home with me ! Come back ! Listen ! 
The Present calls you sweetly ! " 

His arm slipped horribly out of my grasp that had seemed 
to hold it so tightly. Moleson, already below us in the 
yellow sand, looked small with distance. He was gliding 
rapidly farther with uncanny swiftness. The diminution 
of his form was ghastly. It was like a doll's. And his 
voice rose up, faint as with the distance of great gulfs of 
space. 

"Calling . . . calling. . . . You hear it for ever 
calling . . ." 

It died away with the wind along that sandy valley, and 
the Past swept in a flood across the brightening sky. I 
swayed as though a storm was at my back. I reeled. 
Almost I went too — over the crumbling edge into the 
sand. 

" Come back with me ! Come home ! " I cried more 
faintly. ' The Present alone is real. There is work, 
ambition, duty. There is beauty too — the beauty of good 
living ! And there is love ! There is — a woman . . . 
calling, calling . . . ! " 



520 STRANGE STORIES 

That other voice took up the word below me. I heard 
the faint refrain sing down the sandy walls. The wild, 
sweet pang in it was marvellous. 

"Our feet are set for Enet-te-ntore. It is calling, 
calling . . . ! " 

My voice fell into nothingness. George Isley was below 
me now, his outline tiny against the sheet of yellow sand. 
And the sand was moving. The desert rushed again. The 
human figures receded swiftly into the Past they had 
reconstructed with the creative yearning of their souls. 

I stood alone upon the edge of crumbling limestone, 
helplessly watching them. It was amazing what I wit- 
nessed, while the shafts of crimson dawn rose up the sky. 
The enormous desert turned alive to the horizon with gold 
and blue and silver. The purple shadows melted into grey. 
The flat-topped ridges shone. Huge messengers of light 
flashed everywhere at once. The radiance of sunrise 
dazzled my outer sight. 

But if my eyes were blinded, my inner sight was focused 
the more clearly upon what followed. I witnessed the 
disappearance of George Isley. There was a dreadful 
magic in the picture. The pair of them, small and distant 
below me in that little sandy hollow, stood out sharply 
defined as in a miniature. I saw their outlines neat and 
terrible like some ghastly inset against the enormous 
scenery. Though so close to me in actual space, they 
were centuries away in time. And a dim, vast shadow 
was about them that was not mere shadow cf the ridges. 
It encompassed them ; it moved, crawling over the sand, 
obliterating them. Within it, like insects lost in amber, 
they became visibly imprisoned, dwindled in size, borne 
deep away, absorbed. 

And then I recognised the outline. Once more, but 
this time recumbent and spread flat upon the desert's face, 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 521 

I knew the monstrous shapes of the twin obsessing symbols. 
The spirit of ancient Egypt lay over all the land, tremendous 
in the dawn. The sunrise summoned her. She lay pros- 
trate before the deity. The shadows of the towering 
Colossi lay prostrate too. The little humans, with their 
worshipping and conquered hearts, lay deep within them. 
George Isley I saw clearest. The distinctness, the reality 
were appalling. He was naked, robbed, undressed. I saw 
him a skeleton, picked clean to the very bones as by an 
acid. His life lay hid in the being of that mighty Past. 
Egypt had absorbed him. He was gone. . . . 

I closed my eyes, but I could not keep them closed. 
They opened of their own accord. The three of us were 
nearing the great hotel that rose yellow, with shuttered 
windows, in the early sunshine. A wind blew briskly from 
the north across the Mokattam Hills. There were soft 
cannon-ball clouds dotted about the sky, and across the 
Nile, where the mist lay in a line of white, I saw the tops 
of the Pyramids gleaming like mountain peaks of gold. 
A string of camels, laden with white stone, went past us. 
I heard the crying of the natives in the streets of Helouan, 
and as we went up the steps the donkeys arrived and 
camped in the sandy road beside their bersim till the tourists 
claimed them. 

" Good morning," cried Abdullah, the man who owned 
them. " You all go Sakkhara to-day, or Memphis ? 
Beat'ful day to-day, and vair good donkeys ! " 

Moleson went up to his room without a word, and Isley 
did the same. I thought he staggered a moment as he 
turned the passage corner from my sight. His face wore 
a look of vacancy that some call peace. There was radiance 
in it. It made me shudder. Aching in mind and body, 
and no word spoken, I followed their example. I went 



522 STRANGE STORIES 

upstairs to bed, and slept a dreamless sleep till after 
sunset. . . . 



XIV 

And I woke with a lost, unhappy feeling that a with- 
drawing tide had left me on the shore, alone and desolate. 
My first instinct was for my friend, George Isley. And I 
noticed a square, white envelope with my name upon it 
in his writing. 

Before I opened it I knew quite well what words would 
be inside : 

" We are going up to Thebes," the note informed me 
simply. "We leave by the night train. If you care 

t0 " But the last four words were scratched out again, 

though not so thickly that I could not read them. Then 
came the address of the Egyptologist's house and the 
signature, very firmly traced, "Yours ever, George 
Isley." I glanced at my watch and saw that it was after 
seven o'clock. The night train left at half-past six. They 
had already started. . . . 

The pain of feeling forsaken, left behind, was deep and 
bitter, for myself ; but what I felt for him, old friend and 
comrade, was even more intense, since it was hopeless. 
Fear and conventional emotion had stopped me at the very 
gates of an amazing possibility — some state of consciousness 
that, realising the Past, might doff the Present, and by 
slipping out of Time, experience Eternity. That was the 
seduction I had escaped by the uninspired resistance of 
my pettier soul. Yet he, my friend, yielding in order to 
conquer, had obtained an awful prize — ah, I understood the 
picture's other side as well, with an unutterable poignancy 
of pity— the prize of immobility which is sheer stagnation, 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 523 

the imagined bliss which is a false escape, the dream of 
finding beauty away from present things. From that dream 
the awakening must be rude indeed. Clutching at vanished 
stars, he had clutched the oldest illusion in the world. To 
me it seemed the negation of life that had betrayed him. 
The pity of it burned me like a flame. 

But I did not " care to follow " him and his companion. 
I waited at Helouan for bis return, filling the empty days 
with yet emptier explanations. I felt as a man who sees 
what he loves sinking down into clear, deep water, still 
within visible reach, yet gone beyond recovery. Moleson 
had taken him back to Thebes ; and Egypt, monstrous 
effigy of the Past, had caught her prey. 

The rest, moreover, is easily told. Moleson I never saw 
again. To this day I have never seen him, though his 
subsequent books are known to me, with the banal fact 
that he is numbered with those energetic and deluded 
enthusiasts who start a new religion, obtain notoriety, a 
few hysterical followers and — oblivion. 

George Isley, however, returned to Helouan after a 
fortnight's absence. I saw bim, knew him, talked and had 
my meals with him. We even did slight expeditions 
together. He was gentle and delightful as a woman who 
has loved a wonderful ideal and attained to it— in memory. 
All roughness was gone out of him ; he was smooth and 
polished as a crystal surface that reflects whatever is near 
enough to ask a picture. Yet his appearance shocked me 
inexpressibly : there was nothing in him — nothing. It was 
the representation of George Isley that came back from 
Thebes ; the outer simulacra ; the shell that walks the 
London streets to-day. I met no vestige of the man I used 
to know. George Isley had disappeared. 

With this marvellous automaton I lived another month. 
The horror of him kept me company in the hotel where he 



5H STRANGE STORIES 

moved among the cosmopolitan humanity as a ghost that 
visits the sunlight yet has its home elsewhere. 

This empty image of George Isley lived with me in our 
Helouan hotel until the winds of early March informed 
his physical frame that discomfort was in the air, and that 
he might as well move elsewhere— elsewhere happening to 
be northwards. 

And he left just as he stayed — automatically. His brain 
obeyed the conventional stimuli to which his nerves, and 
consequently his muscles, were accustomed. It sounds 
so foolish. But he took his ticket automatically ; he gave 
the natural and adequate reasons automatically, he chose 
his ship and landing-place in the same way that ordinary 
people chose these things ; he said good-bye like any other 
man who leaves casual acquaintances and " hopes " to 
meet them again ; he lived, that is to say, entirely in his 
brain. His heart, his emotions, his temperament and 
personality, that nameless sum-tctal for which the great 
sympathetic nervous system is accountable — all this, his 
soul, had gone elsewhere. This once vigorous, gifted being 
had become a normal, comfortable man that everybody 
could understand — a commonplace nonentity. He was 
precisely what the majority expected him to be — ordinary ; 
a good fellow ; a man of the world ; he was " delightful." 
He merely reflected daily life without partaking of it. To 
the majority it was hardly noticeable ; " very pleasant " 
was a general verdict. His ambition, his restlessness, his 
zeal had gone ; that tireless zest whose driving power is 
yearning had taken flight, leaving behind it physical energy 
without spiritual desire. His soul had found its nest and 
flown to it. He lived in the chimera of the Past, serene, 
indifferent, detached. I saw him immense, a shadowy, 
majestic figure, standing — ah, not moving !— in a repose 
that was satisfying because it could not change. The size, 



A DESCENT INTO EGYPT 525 

the mystery, the immobility that caged him in seemed 
to me — terrible. For I dared not intrude upon his awful 
privacy, and intimacy between us there was none. Of his 
experiences at Thebes I asked no single question — it was 
somehow not possible or legitimate ; he, equally, vouchsafed 
no word of explanation — it was uncommunicable to a 
dweller in the Present. Between us was this barrier we 
both respected. He peered at modern life, incurious, 
listless, apathetic, through a dim, gauze curtain. He was 
behind it. 

People round us were going to Sakkhara and the Pyra- 
mids, to see the Sphinx by moonlight, to dream at Edfu 
and at Denderah. Others described their journeys to 
Assouan, Khartoum and Abou Simbel, and gave details 
of their encampments in the desert. Wind, wind, wind ! 
The winds of Egypt blew and sang and sighed. From the 
White Nile came the travellers, and from the Blue Nile, 
from the Fayum, and from nameless excavations without 
end. They talked and wrote their books. They had the 
magpie knowledge of the present. The Egyptologists, big 
and little, read the writing on the wall and put the hiero- 
glyphs and papyri into modern language. Alone George 
Isley knew the secret. He lived it. 

And the high passionate calm, the lofty beauty, the 
glamour and enchantment that are the spell of this thrice- 
haunted land, were in my soul as well — sufficiently for me 
to interpret his condition. I could not leave, yet having 
left I could not stay away. I yearned for the Egypt that 
he knew. No word I uttered ; speech could not approach 
it. We wandered by the Nile together, and through the 
groves of palms that once were Memphis. The sandy 
wastes beyond the Pyramids knew our footsteps ; the 
Mokattam Ridges, purple at evening and golden in the 
dawn, held our passing shadows as we silently went by. 



526 STRANGE STORIES 

At no single dawn or sunset was he to be found indoors, 
and it became my habit to accompany him — the joy of 
worship in his soul was marvellous. The great, still skies 
of Egypt watched us, the hanging stars, the gigantic dome 
of blue ; we felt together that burning southern wind ; 
the golden sweetness of the sun lay in our blood as we saw 
the great boats take the northern breeze upstream. 
Immensity was everywhere and this golden magic of the 
sun. . . . 

But it was in the Desert especially, where only sun and 
wind observe the faint signalling of Time, where space is 
nothing because it is not divided, and where no detail 
reminds the heart that the world is called To-Day— it was 
in the desert this curtain hung most visibly between us, 
he on that side, I on this. It was transparent. He was 
with a multitude no man can number. Towering to the 
moon, yet spreading backwards towards his burning source 
of life, drawn out by the sun and by the crystal air into 
some vast interior magnitude, the spirit of George Isley 
hung beside me, close yet far away, in the haze of olden 
days. 

And, sometimes, he moved. I was aware of gestures. 
His head was raised to listen. One arm swung shadowy 
across the sea of broken ridges. From leagues away a line 
of sand rose slowly. There was a rustling. Another — an 
enormous — arm emerged to meet his own, and two stupen- 
dous figures drew together. Poised above Time, yet 
throned upon the centuries, They knew eternity. So easily 
they remained possessors of the land. Facing the east, 
they waited for the dawn. And their marvellously for- 
gotten singing poured across the world. . . . 



THE DAMNED 



" T'M over forty, Frances, and rather sot in my ways," 
X I said good-naturedly, ready to yield if she insisted 
that our going together on the visit involved her happiness. 
" My work is rather heavy just now too, as you know. 
The question is, could I work there — with a lot of unassorted 
people in the house ? " 

" Mabel doesn't mention any other people, Bill," was 
my sister's rejoinder. " I gather she's alone — as well as 
lonely." 

By the way she looked sideways out of the window at 
nothing, it was obvious she was disappointed, but to my 
surprise she did not urge the point ; and as I glanced at 
Mrs. Franklyn's invitation lying upon her sloping lap, the 
neat, childish handwriting conjured up a mental picture 
of the banker's widow, with her timid, insignificant 
personality, her pale grey eyes and her expression as of a 
backward child. I thought, too, of the roomy country 
mansion her late husband had altered to suit his particular 
needs, and of my visit to it a few years ago when its barren 
spaciousness suggested a wing of Kensington Museum fitted 
up temporarily as a place to eat and sleep in. Comparing 
it mentally with the poky Chelsea flat where I and 
my sister kept impecunious house, I realised other points 
as well. Unworthy details flashed across me to entice : 
the fine library, the organ, the quiet work-room I should 
have, perfect service, the deliciotis cup of early tea, and 
hot baths at any moment of the day — without a geyser ! 

5*7 



528 STRANGE STORIES 

" It's a longish visit, a month— isn't it ? " I hedged, 
smiling at the details that seduced me, and ashamed of 
my man's selfishness, yet knowing that Frances expected 
it of me. " There are points about it, I admit. If you're 
set on my going with you, I could manage it all right." 

I spoke at length in this way because my sister made no 
answer. I saw her tired eyes gazing into the dreariness 
of Oakley Street and felt a pang strike through me. After 
a pause, in which again she said no word, I added : " So, 
when you write the letter, you might hint, perhaps, that 
I usually work all the morning, and — er — am not a very 
lively visitor ! Then she'll understand, you see." And 
I half-rose to return to my diminutive study, where I was 
slaving, just then, at an absorbing article on Comparative 
^Esthetic Values in the Blind and Deaf. 

But Frances did not move. She kept her grey eyes 
upon Oakley Street where the evening mist from the river 
drew mournful perspectives into view. It was late October. 
We heard the omnibuses thundering across the bridge. 
The monotony of that broad, characterless street seemed 
more than usually depressing. Even in June sunshine it 
was dead, but with autumn its melancholy soaked into 
every house between King's Road and the Embankment. 
It washed thought into the past, instead of inviting it 
hopefully towards the future. For me, its easy width was 
an avenue through which nameless slums across the river 
sent creeping messages of depression, and I always regarded 
it as Winter's main entrance into London — fog, slush, 
gloom trooped down it every November, waving their 
forbidding banners till March came to rout them. Its 
one claim upon my love was that the south wind swept 
sometimes unobstructed up it, soft with suggestions of 
the sea. These lugubrious thoughts I naturally kept to 
myself, though I never ceased to regret the little flat whose 



THE DAMNED 5*9 

cheapness had seduced us. Now, as I watched my sister's 
impassive face, I realised that perhaps she, too, felt as I 
felt, yet, brave woman, without betraying it. 

" And, look here, Fanny," I said, putting a hand upon 
her shoulder as I crossed the room, " it would be the very 
thing for you. You're worn out with catering and house- 
keeping. Mabel is your oldest friend, besides, and you're 
hardly seen her since he died " 

" She's been abroad for a year, Bill, and only just came 
back," my sister interposed. " She came back rather 
unexpectedly, though I never thought she would go there 

to ii ve » She stopped abruptly. Clearly, she was only 

speaking half her mind. "Probably," she went on, 
" Mabel wants to pick up old links again." 

" Naturally," I put in, " yourself chief among them." 
The veiled reference to the house I let pass. It involved 
discussing the dead man for one thing. 

" I feel I ought to go anyhow," she resumed, " and of 
course it would be jollier if you came too. You'd get in 
such a muddle here by yourself, and eat wrong things, and 
forget to air the rooms, and — oh, everything ! " She 
looked up laughing. "Only," she added, "there's the 
British Museum ? " 

" But there's a big library there," I answered, " and 
all the books of reference I could possibly want. It was 
of you I was thinking. You could take up your painting 
again ; you always sell half of what you paint. It would 
be a splendid rest too, and Sussex is a jolly country to walk 
in. By all means, Fanny, I advise; " 

Our eyes met, as I stammered in my attempts to avoid 
expressing the thought that hid in both our minds. My 
sister had a weakness for dabbling in the various " new " 
theories of the day, and Mabel, who before her marriage 
had belonged to foolish societies for investigating the 



53° STRANGE STORIES 

future life to the neglect of the present one, had fostered 
this undesirable tendency. Her amiable, impressionable 
temperament was open to every psychic wind that blew. 
I deplored, detested the whole business. But even more 
than this I abhorred the later influence that Mr. Franklyn 
had steeped his wife in, capturing her body and soul in 
his sombre doctrines. I had dreaded lest my sister also 
might be caught. 

" Now that she is alone again " 

I stopped short. Our eyes now made pretence impossible, 
for the truth had slipped out inevitably, stupidly, although 
unexpressed in definite language. We laughed, turning 
our faces a moment to look at other things in the room. 
Frances picked up a book and examined its cover as though 
she had made an important discovery, while I took my 
case out and lit a cigarette I did not want to smoke. We 
left the matter there. I went out of the room before 
further explanation could cause tension. Disagreements 
grow into discord from such tiny things — wrong adjectives, 
or a chance inflection of the voice. Frances had a right 
to her views of life as much as I had. At least, I reflected 
comfortably, we had separated upon an agreement this 
time, recognised mutually, though not actually stated. 

And this point of meeting was, oddly enough, our way 
of regarding some one who was dead. For we had both 
disliked the husband with a great dislike, and during his 
three years' married life had only been to the house once — 
for a week-end visit ; arriving late on Saturday, we had 
left after an early breakfast on Monday morning. Ascribing 
my sister's dislike to a natural jealousy at losing her old 
friend, I said merely that he displeased me. Yet we both 
knew that the real emotion lay much deeper. Frances, 
loyal, honourable creature, had kept silence j and beyond 
saying that house and grounds — he altered one and laid 



THE DAMNED 53 1 

out the other — distressed her as an expression of his 
personality somehow (" distressed " was the word she used), 
no further explanation had passed her lips. 

Our dislike of his personality was easily accounted for — up 
to a point, since both of us shared the artist's point of 
view that a creed, cut to measure and carefully dried, was an 
ugly thing,, and that a dogma to which believers must 
subscribe or perish everlastingly was a barbarism resting 
upon cruelty. But while my own dislike was purely due 
to an abstract worship of Beauty, my sister's had another 
twist in it, for with her " new " tendencies, she believed that 
all religions were an aspect of truth and that no one, even 
the lowest wretch, could escape " heaven " in the long run. 

Samuel Franklyn, the rich banker, was a man universally 
respected and admired, and the marriage, though Mabel 
was fifteen years his junior, won general applause ; his 
bride was an heiress in her own right — breweries — and the 
story of her conversion at a revivalist meeting where 
Samuel Franklyn had spoken fervidly of heaven, and 
terrifying of sin, hell and damnation, even contained a 
touch of genuine romance. She was a brand snatched 
from the burning ; his detailed eloquence had frightened 
her into heaven ; salvation came in the nick of time ; his 
words had plucked her from the edge of that lake of fire and 
brimstone where their worm dieth not and the fire is not 
quenched. She regarded him as a hero, sighed her relief 
upon his saintly shoulder, and accepted the peace he offered 
her with a grateful resignation. 

For her husband was a " religious man " who successfully 
combined great riches with the glamour of winning souls. 
He was a portly figure, though tall, with masterful, big 
hands, the fingers rather thick and red ; and his dignity, 
that just escaped being pompous, held in it something that 
was implacable. A convinced assurance, almost remorse- 



532 STRANGE STORIES 

less, gleamed in his eyes when he preached especially, and 
his threats of hell fire must have scared souls stronger than 
the timid, receptive Mabel whom he married. He clad 
himself in long frock-coats that buttoned unevenly, big 
square boots, and trousers that invariably bagged at the 
knee and were a little short ; he wore low collars, spats 
occasionally, and a tall black hat that was not of silk. His 
voice was alternately hard and unctuous ; and he regarded 
theatres, ball-rooms and race-courses as the vestibule of 
that brimstone lake of whose geography he was as positive 
as of his great banking offices in the City. A philanthropist 
up to the hilt, however, no one ever doubted his complete 
sincerity ; his convictions were ingrained, his faith borne 
out by his life — as witness his name upon so many admirable 
Societies, as treasurer, patron, or heading the donation 
list. He bulked large in the world of doing good, a broad 
and stately stone in the rampart against evil. And his 
heart was genuinely kind and soft for others— who believed 
as he did. 

Yet, in spite of this true sympathy with suffering and his 
desire to help, he was narrow as a telegraph wire and 
unbending as a church pillar ; he was intensely selfish ; 
intolerant as an officer of the Inquisition, his bourgeois soul 
constructed a revolting scheme of heaven that was re- 
produced in miniature in all he did and planned. Faith 
was the sine qua non of salvation, and by " faith " he 
meant belief in his own particular view of things — " which 
faith, except every one do keep whole and undefiled, 
without doubt he shall perish everlastingly." All the 
world but his own small, exclusive sect must be damned 
eternally — a pity, but alas, inevitable. He was right. 

Yet he prayed without ceasing, and gave heavily to the 
poor — the only thing he could not give being big ideas to his 
provincial and suburban deity. Pettier than an insect, 



THE DAMNED 533 

and more obstinate than a mule, he had also the superior, 
sleek humility of a " chosen one." He was churchwarden 
too. He read the Lessons in a " place of worship," either 
chilly or overheated, where neither organ, vestments, nor 
lighted candles were permitted, but where the odour of 
hair-wash on the boys' heads in the back rows pervaded the 
entire building. 

This portrait of the banker, who accumulated riches both 
on earth and in heaven, may possibly be overdrawn, 
however, because Frances and I were " artistic tempera- 
ments " that viewed the type with a dislike and distrust 
amounting to contempt. The majority considered Samuel 
Franklyn a worthy man and a good citizen. The majority, 
doubtless, held the saner view. A few years more, and he 
certainly would have been made a baronet. He relieved 
much suffering in the world, as assuredly as he caused 
many souls the agonies of torturing fear by his emphasis 
upon damnation. Had there been one point of beauty in 
him, we might have been more lenient ; only we found it 
not, and, I admit, took little pains to search. I shall never 
forget the look of dour forgiveness with which he heard our 
excuses for missing Morning Prayers that Sunday morning 
of our single visit to The Towers. My sister learned that a 
change was made soon afterwards, prayers being " con- 
ducted " after breakfast instead of before. 

The Towers stood solemnly upon a Sussex hill amid park- 
like modern grounds, but the house cannot better be 
described — it would be so wearisome for one thing — than 
by saying that it was a cross between an overgrown, pre- 
tentious Norwood villa and one of those saturnine Institutes 
for cripples the train passes as it slinks ashamed through 
South London into Surrey. It was " wealthily " furnished 
and at first sight imposing, but on closer acquaintance 
revealed a meagre personality, barren and austere. One 



534 STRANGE STORIES 

looked for Rules and Regulations on the walls, all signed By- 
Order. The place was a prison that shut out " the world." 
There was, of course, no billiard-room, no smoking-room, 
no room for play of any kind, and the great hall at the back, 
once a chapel which might have been used for dancing, 
theatricals, or other innocent amusements, was consecrated 
in his day to meetings of various kinds, chiefly brigades, 
temperance or missionary societies. There was a har- 
monium at one end-^-on the level floor — a raised dais or 
platform at the other, and a gallery above for the servants, 
gardeners and coachmen. It was heated with hot-water 
pipes, and hung with Dora's pictures, though these latter 
were soon removed and stored out of sight in the attics as 
being too unspiritual. In polished, shiny wood, it was a 
representation in miniature of that poky exclusive Heaven 
he took about with him, externalising it in all he did and 
planned, even in the grounds about the house. 

Changes in The Towers, Frances told me, had been made 
during Mabel's year of widowhood abroad — an organ put 
into the big hall, the library made liveable and recatalogued 
— when it was permissible to suppose she had found her 
soul again and returned to her normal, healthy views of 
life, which included enjoyment and play, literature, music 
and the arts, without however, a touch of that trivial 
thoughtlessness usually termed worldliness. Mrs. Franklyn 
as I remembered her, was a quiet little woman, shallow, 
perhaps, and easily influenced, but sincere as a dog and 
thorough in her faithful friendships. Her tastes at heart 
were catholic, and that heart was simple and unimaginative. 
That she took up with the various movements of the day 
was sign merely that she was searching in her limited way 
for a belief that should bring her peace. She was, in fact, 
a very ordinary woman, her calibre a little less than that of 
Frances. I knew they used to discuss all kinds of theories 



THE DAMNED 535 

together, but as these discussions never resulted in action, 
I had come to regard her as harmless. Still, I was not 
sorry when she married, and I did not welcome now a 
renewal of the former intimacy. The philanthropist had 
given her no children, or she would have made a good 
and sensible mother. No doubt she would marry again. 

" Mabel mentions that she's been alone at The Towers 
since the end of August," Frances told me at tea-time ; 
" and I'm sure she feels out of it and lonely. It would be a 
kindness to go. Besides, I always liked her." 

I agreed. I had recovered from my attack of selfishness. 
I expressed my pleasure. 

" You've written to accept," I said, half statement and 
half question. 

Frances nodded. " I thanked for you," she added 
quietly, " explaining that you were not free at the moment, 
but that later, if not convenient, you might come down for a 
bit and join me." 

I stared. Frances sometimes had this independent way 
of deciding things. I was convicted, and punished into the 
bargain. 

Of course there followed argument and explanation, as 
between brother and sister who were affectionate, but the 
recording of our talk could be of little interest. It was 
arranged thus, Frances and I both satisfied. Two days 
later she departed for The Towers, leaving me alone in the 
flat with everything planned for my comfort and good 
behaviour — she was rather a tyrant in her quiet way — and 
her last words as I saw her off from Charing Cross rang in 
my head for a long time after she was gone : 

" I'll write and let you know, Bill. Eat properly, mind, 
and let me know if anything goes wrong." 

She waved her small gloved hand, nodded her head till 
the feather brushed the window, and was gone. 



536 STRANGE STORIES 



II 



After the note announcing her safe arrival a week of 
silence passed, and then a letter came ; there were various 
suggestions for my welfare, and the rest was the usual 
rambling information and description Frances loved, 
generously italicised. 

"... and we are quite alone," she went on in her 
enormous handwriting that seemed such a waste of space 
and labour, " though some others are coming presently, I 
believe. You could work here to your heart's content. 
Mabel quite understands, and says she would love to have 
you when you feel free to come. She has changed a bit — 
back to her old natural self ; she never mentions him. The 
place has changed too in certain ways ; it has more cheer- 
fulness, I think. She has put it in, this cheerfulness, spaded 
it in, if you know what I mean ; but it lies about uneasily 
and is not natural— quite. The organ is a beauty. She 
must be very rich now, but she's as gentle and sweet as 
ever. Do you know, Bill, I think he must have frightened 
her into marrying him. I get the impression she was 
afraid of him." This last sentence was inked out, but I 
read it through the scratching ; the letters being too big lo 
hide. " He had an inflexible will beneath all that oily 
kindness which passed for spiritual. He was a real person- 
ality, I mean. I'm sure he'd have sent you and me cheer- 
fully to the stake in another century — -for our own good. 
Isn't it odd she never speaks of him, even to me ? " This, 
again, was stroked through, though without the intention to 
obliterate — merely because it was repetition, probably. 
" The only reminder of him in the house now is a big copy 
of the presentation portrait that stands on the stairs of the 
Multitechnic Institute at Peckham — you know — that life- 



THE DAMNED 537 

size one with his fat hand sprinkled with rings resting on a 
thick Bible and the other slipped between the buttons of a 
tight frock-coat. It hangs in the dining-room and rather 
dominates our meals. I wish Mabel would take it down. 
I think she'd like to, if she dared. There's not a single 
photograph of him anywhere, even in her own room. 
Mrs. Marsh is here — you remember her, his housekeeper, 
the wife of the man who got penal servitude for killing a 
baby or something — you said she robbed him and justified 
her stealing because the story of the unjust steward was in 
the Bible ! How we laughed over that ! She's just the 
same too, gliding about all over the house and turning up 
when least expected." 

Other reminiscences filled the next two sides of the letter, 
and ran, without a trace of punctuation, into instructions 
about a Salamander stove for heating my work-room in the 
flat ; these were followed by things I was to tell the cook, 
and by requests for several articles she had forgotten and 
would like sent after her, two of them blouses, with descrip- 
tions so lengthy and contradictory that I sighed as I read 
them — " unless you come down soon, in which case perhaps 
you wouldn't mind bringing them ; not the mauve one I 
wear in the evening sometimes, but the pale blue one with 
lace round the collar and the crinkly front. They're in the 
cupboard — or the drawer, I'm not sure which — of my 
bedroom. Ask Annie if you're in doubt. Thanks most 
awfully. Send a telegram, remember, and we'll meet you 
in the motor any time. I don't quite know if I shall stay 
the whole month — alone. It all depends. . . ." And she 
closed the letter, the italicised words increasing recklessly 
towards the end, with a repetition that Mabel would love to 
have me " for myself," as also to have a " man in the 
house," and that I only had to telegraph the day and 
the train. . . . This letter, coming by the second post, 

S 



538 STRANGE STORIES 

interrupted me in a moment of absorbing work, and, having 
read it through, to make sure there was nothing requiring 
instant attention, I threw it aside and went on with my 
notes and reading. Within five minutes, however, it was 
back at me again. That restless thing called " between the 
lines " fluttered about my mind. My interest in the 
Balkan States — political article that had been " ordered " — 
faded. Somewhere, somehow I felt disquieted, disturbed. 
At first I persisted in my work, forcing myself to concentrate 
but soon found that a layer of new impressions floated 
between the article and my attention. It was like a shadow 
though a shadow that dissolved upon inspection. Once or 
twice I glanced up, expecting to find some one in the room 
that the door had opened unobserved and Annie was 
waiting for instructions. I heard the 'buses thundering 
across the bridge. I was aware of Oakley Street. Mon- 
tenegro and the blue Adriatic melted into the October haze 
along that depressing Embankment that aped a river bank, 
and sentences from the letter flashed before my eyes and 
stung me. Picking it up and reading it through more 
carefully, I rang the bell and told Annie to find the blouses 
and pack them for the post, showing her finally the written 
description, and resenting the superior smile with which she 
at once, interrupted, " / know them, sir," and disappeared. 
But it was not the blouses : it was that exasperating 
thing " between the lines " that put an end to my work 
with its elusive teasing nuisance. The first sharp impression 
is alone of value in such a case, for once analysis begins the 
imagination constructs all kinds of false interpretation. 
The more I thought, the more I grew fuddled. The letter, 
it seemed to me, wanted to say another thing ; instead the 
eight sheets conveyed it merely. It came to the edge of 
disclosure, then halted. There was something on the 
writer's mind, and I felt uneasy. Studying the sentences 



THE DAMNED 539 

brought, however, no revelation, but increased confusion 
only ; for while the uneasiness remained, the first clear hint 
had vanished. In the end I closed my books and went out 
to look up another matter at the British Museum Library. 
Perhaps I should discover it that way — by turning the 
mind in a totally new direction. I lunched at ihe Express 
Dairy in Oxford Street close by, and telephoned to Annie 
that I would be home to tea at five. 

And at tea, tired physically and mentally after breathing 
the exhausted air of the Rotunda for five hours, my mind 
suddenly delivered up its original impression, vivid and 
clear-cut ; no proof accompanied the revelation ; it was 
mere presentiment, but convincing. Frances was dis- 
turbed in her mind, her orderly, sensible, housekeeping 
mind ; she was uneasy, even perhaps afraid ; something in 
the house distressed her, and she had need of me. Unless I 
went down, her time of rest and change, her quite necessary 
holiday, in fact, would be spoilt. She was too unselfish to 
say this, but it ran everywhere between the lines. I saw it 
clearly now. Mrs. Franklyn, moreover — and that meant 
Frances too — would like a " man in the house." It was a 
disagreeable phrase, a suggestive way of hinting something 
she dared n ot state definitely. The two women in that 
great, lonely barrack of a house were afraid. 

My sense of duty, affection, unselfishness, whatever the 
composite emotion may be termed, was stirred ; also my 
vanity. I acted quickly, lest reflection should warp clear, 
decent judgment. "Annie," I said, when she answered 
the bell, " you need not send those blouses by the post. 
I'll take them down to-morrow when I go. I shall be away 
a week or two, possibly longer." And, having looked up a 
train, I hastened out to telegraph before I could change my 
fickle mind. 

But no desire came that night to change my mind. I 



54° STRANGE STORIES 

was doing the right, the necessary thing. I was even in 
something of a hurry to get down to The Towers as soon as 
possible. I chose an early afternoon train. 



Ill 

A telegram had told me to come to a town ten miles from 
the house, so I was saved the crawling train to the local 
station, and travelled down by an express. As soon as we 
left London the fog cleared off, and an autumn sun, though 
without heat in it, painted the landscape with golden 
browns and yellows. My spirits rose as I lay back in the 
luxurious motor and sped between the woods and hedges. 
Oddly enougn, my anxiety of overnight had disappeared. 
It was due, no doubt, to that exaggeration of detail which 
reflection in loneliness brings. Frances and I had not been 
separated for over a year, and her letters from The Towers 
told so little. It had seemed unnatural to be deprived of 
those intimate particulars of mood and feeling I was 
accustomed to. We had such confidence in one another, 
and our affection was so deep. Though she was but five 
years younger than myself, I regarded her as a child. My 
attitude was fatherly. In return, she certainly mothered 
me with a solicitude that never cloyed. I felt no desire to 
marry while she was still alive. She painted in water- 
colours with a reasonable success, and kept house for 
me ; I wrote, reviewed books and lectured on aesthetics ; 
we were a humdrum couple of quasi-artists, well satisfied 
with life, and all I feared for her was that she might become 
a suffragette or be taken captive by one of these wild 
theories that caught her imagination sometimes, and that 
Mabel, for one, had fostered. As for myself, no doubt she 
deemed me a trifle solid or stolid — I forget which word she 



THE DAMNED 541 

preferred — but on the whole there was just sufficient 
difference of opinion to make intercourse suggestive without 
monotony, and certainly without quarrelling. Drawing in 
deep draughts of the stinging autumn air, I felt happy 
and exhilarated. It was like going for a holiday, with 
comfort at the end of the journey instead of bargaining for 
centimes. 

But my heart sank noticeably the moment the house 
came into view. The long drive, lined with hostile monkey 
trees and formal wellingtonias that were solemn and sedate, 
was mere extension of the miniature approach to a thousand 
semi-detached suburban " residences " ; and the appear- 
ance of The Towers, as we turned the corner with a rush, 
suggested a commonplace climax to a story that had begun 
interestingly, almost thrillingly-. A villa had escaped from 
the shadow of the Crystal Palace, thumped its way down by 
night, grown suddenly monstrous in a shower of rich rain, 
and settled itself insolently to stay. Ivy climbed about the 
opulent red-brick walls, but climbed neatly and with 
disfiguring effect, sham as on a prison or — the simile made 
me smile — an orphan asylum. There was no hint of the 
comely roughness of untidy ivy on a ruin. Clipped, 
trained and precise it was, as on a brand-new protestant 
church. I swear there was not a bird's nest nor a single 
earwig in it anywhere. About the porch it was particularly 
thick, smothering a seventeenth-century lamp with a 
contrast that was quite horrible. Extensive glass-houses 
spread away on the farther side of the house ; the numerous 
towers to which the building owed its name seemed made to 
hold school bells ; and the window-sills, thick with potted 
flowers^ made me think of the desolate suburbs of Brighton 
or Bexhill. In a commanding position upon the crest of a 
hill, it overlooked miles of undulating, wooded country 
southwards to the Downs, but behind it, to the north, thick 



542 STRANGE STORIES 

banks of ilex, holly and privet protected it from the cleaner 
and more stimulating winds. Hence, though highly placed, 
it was shut in. Three years had passed since I last set 
eyes upon it, but the unsightly memory I had retained was 
justified by the reality. The place was deplorable. 

It is my habit to express my opinions audibly sometimes, 
when impressions are strong enough to warrant it ; but 
now I only sighed " Oh, dear," as I extricated my legs 
from many rugs and went into the house. A tall parlour- 
maid, with the bearing of a grenadier, received me, and 
standing behind her was Mrs. Marsh, the housekeeper, 
whom I remembered because her untidy black hair had 
suggested to me that it had been burnt. I went at once to 
my room my hostess already dressing for dinner, but 
Frances came in to see me just as I was struggling with my 
black tie that had got tangled like a bootlace. She fastened 
it for me in a neat, effective bow, and while I held my chin 
up for the operation, staring blankly at the ceiling, the 
impression came — I wondered, was it her touch that caused 
it ? — that something in her trembled. Shrinking perhaps 
is the truer word. Nothing in her face or manner betrayed 
it, nor in her pleasant easy talk while she tidied my things 
and scolded my slovenly packing, as her habit was, question- 
ing me about the servants at the flat. The blouses, though 
right, were crumpled, and my scolding was deserved. 
There was no impatience even. Yet somehow or other the 
suggestion of a shrinking reserve and holding back reached 
my mind. She had been lonely, of course, but it was more 
than that ; she was glad that I had come, yet for some 
reason unstated she could have wished that I had stayed 
away. We discussed the news that had accumulated 
during our brief separation, and in doing so the impression, 
at best exceedingly slight, was forgotten. My chamber was 
large and beautifully furnished ; the hall and dining-room 



THE DAMNED 543 

of our flat would have gone into it with a good remainder ; 
yet it was not a place I could settle down in for work. It 
conveyed the idea of impermanence, making me feel 
transient as in a hotel bedroom. This, of course, was the 
fact. But some rooms convey a settled, lasting hospitality 
even in a hotel ; this one did not ; and as I was accustomed 
to work in the room I slept in, at least when visiting, a 
slight frown must have crept between my eyes. 

" Mabel has fitted a work-room for you just out of the 
library," said the clairvoyant Frances. " No one will 
disturb you there, and you'll have fifteen thousand books all 
catalogued within easy reach. There's a private staircase 
too. You can breakfast in your room and slip down in 
your dressing-gown if you want to." She laughed. My 
spirits took a turn upwards as absurdly as they had gone 
down. 

" And how are you ? " I asked, giving her a belated kiss. 
" It's jolly to be together again. I did feel rather lost 
without you, I'll admit." 

" That's natural," she laughed. " I'm so glad." 

She looked well and had country colour in her cheeks. 
She informed me that she was eating and sleeping well, 
going out for little walks with Mabel, painting bits of 
scenery again, and enjoying a complete change and rest ; 
and yet, for all her brave description, the words somehow 
did not quite ring true. Those last words in particular did 
not ring true. There lay in her manner, just out of sight, I 
felt, this suggestion of the exact reverse — of unrest, shrink- 
ing, almost of anxiety. Certain small strings in her seemed 
over-tight. " Keyed-up " was the slang expression that 
crossed my mind. I looked rather searchingly into her 
face as she was telling me this. 

" Only — the evenings," she added, noticing my query, 
yet rather avoiding my eyes, " the evenings are — well, 



544 STRANGE STORIES 

rather heavy sometimes, and I find it difficult to keep 
awake." 

" The strong air after London makes you drowsy," I 
suggested, " and you like to get early to bed." 

Frances turned and looked at me for a moment steadily. 
" On the contrary, Bill, I dislike going to bed — here. And 
Mabel goes so early." She said it lightly enough, fingering 
the disorder upon my dressing-table in such a stupid way 
that I saw her mind was working in another direction 
altogether. She looked up suddenly with a kind of nervous- 
ness from the brush and scissors. " Billy," she said 
abruptly, lowering her voice, " isn't it odd, but I hate 
sleeping alone here ? I can't make it out quite ; I've never 
felt such a thing before in my life. Do you — thiuk it's all 
nonsense ? " And she laughed, with her lips but not with 
her eyes ; there was a note of defiance in her I failed to 
understand. 

" Nothing a nature like yours feels strongly is nonsense, 
Frances," I replied soothingly. 

But I, too, answered with my lips only, for another part 
of my mind was working elsewhere, and among uncomfort- 
able things. A touch of bewilderment passed over me. I 
was not certain how best to continue. If I laughed she 
would tell me no more, yet if I took her too seriously the 
strings would tighten further. Instinctively, then, this 
flashed rapidly across me : that something of what she felt, 
I had also felt, though interpreting it differently. Vague it 
was, as the coming of rain or storm that announce them- 
selves hours in advance with their hint of faint, unsettling 
excitement in the air. I had been but a short hour in the 
house — big, comfortable, luxurious house — but had ex- 
perienced this sense of being unsettled, unfixed, fluctuating 
— a kind of impermanence that transient lodgers in hotels 
must feel, but that a guest in a friend's home ought not to 



THE DAMNED 545 

feel, be the visit short or long. To Frances, an impression- 
able woman, the feeling had come in the terms of alarm. 
She disliked sleeping alone, while yet she longed to sleep. 
The precise idea in my mind evaded capture, merely 
brushing through me, three-quarters out of sight ; I realised 
only that we both felt the same thing, and that neither of 
us could get at it clearly. Degrees of unrest we felt, but the 
actual thing did not disclose itself. It did not happen. 

I felt strangely at sea for a moment. Frances would 
interpret hesitation as endorsement, and encouragement 
might be the last thing that could help her. 

" Sleeping in a strange house," I aenswred at length, " is 
often difficult at first, and one feels lonely. After fifteen 
months in our tiny flat one feels lost and uncared-for in a 
big house. It's an uncomfortable feeling — I know it well. 
And this is a barrack, isn't it ? The masses of furniture 
only make it worse. One feels in storage somewhere 
underground— the furniture doesn't furnish. One must 
never yield to fancies, though — " 

Frances looked away towards the windows ; she seemed 
disappointed a little. 

"After our thickly-populated Chelsea," I went on 
quickly, " it seems isolated here." 

But she did not turn back, and clearly I was saying the 
wrong thing. A wave of pity rushed suddenly over me. 
Was she really frightened perhaps ? She was imaginative, 
I knew, but never moody ; common sense was strong in 
her, though she had her times of hypersensitiveness. I 
caught the echo of some unreasoning, big alarm in her. 
She stood there, gazing across my balcony towards the sea of 
wooded country that spread dim and vague in the obscurity 
of the dusk. The deepening shadows entered the room, I 
fancied, from the grounds below. Following her abstracted 
gaze a moment, I experienced a curious sharp desire to 



54 6 STRANGE STORIES 

leave, to escape. Out yonder was winn and space and 
freedom. This enormous building was oppressive, silent, 
still. Great catacombs occurred to me, things beneath the 
ground, imprisonment and capture. I believe I even 
shuddered a little. 

I touched her shoulder. She turned round slowly, and 
we looked with a certain deliberation into each other's eyes. 

" Fanny," I asked, more gravely than I intended, " you 
are not frightened, are you ? Nothing has happened, has 
it ? " 

She replied with emphasis, " Of course not ! How could 
it — I mean, why should I ? " She stammered, as though 
the wrong sentence flustered her a second. " It's simply— 
that I have this ter — this dislike of sleeping alone." 

Naturally, my first thought was how easy it would be to 
cut our visit short. But I did not say this. Had it been a 
true solution, Frances would have said it for me long ago. 

" Wouldn't Mabel double-up with you ? " I said instead, 
" or give you an adjoining room, so that you could leave the 
door between you open ? There's space enough, heaven 
knows." 

And then, as the gong sounded in the hall below for 
dinner, she said, as with an effort, this thing : 

" Mabel did ask me — on the third night — after I had told 
her. But I declined." 

" You'd rather be alone than with her ? " I asked, with a 
certain relief . 

Her reply was so gravely given, a child would have known 
there was more behind it : " Not that ; but that she did not 
really want it." 

I had a moment's intuition and acted on it impulsively. 
" She feels it too, perhaps, but wishes to face it by herself — 
and get over it ? " 

My sister bowed her head, and the gesture made me 



THE DAMNED 547 

realise of a sudden how grave and solemn our talk had 
grown, as though some portentous thing were under 
discussion. It had come of itself— indefinite as a gradual 
change of temperature. Yet neither of us knew its nature, 
for apparently neither of us could state it plainly. Nothing 
happened, even in our words. 

"That was my impression," she said, " — that if she 
yields to it she encourages it. And a habit forms so easily. 
Jtist think," she added with a faint smile that was the first 
sign of lightness she had yet betrayed, " what a nuisance it 
would be — everywhere — if everybody was afraid of being 
alone — like that." 

I snatched readily at the chance. We laughed a little, 
though it was a quiet kind of laughter that seemed wrong. 
I took her arm and led her towards the door. 

" Disastrous, in fact," I agreed. 

She raised her voice to its normal pitch again, as I had 
done. " No doubt it will pass," she said, " now that you 
have come. Of course, it's chiefly my imagination." Her 
tone was lighter, though nothing could convince me that 
the matter itself was light— just then. " And in any case," 
tightening her grip on my arm as we passed into the bright 
enormous corridor and caught sight of Mrs. Franklyn 
waiting in the cheerless hall below, " I'm very glad you're 
here, Bill, and Mabel, I know, is too." 

" If it doesn't pass," I just had time to whisper with a 
feeble attempt at jollity, " I'll come at night and snore 
outside your door. After that you'll be so glad to get rid of 
me that you won't mind being alone." 

" That's a bargain," said Frances. 

I shook my hostess by the hand, made a banal remark 
about the long interval since last we met, and walked 
behind them into the great dining-room, dimly lit by candles 
wondering in my heart how long my sister and I should 



54« STRANGE STORIES 

stay, and why in the world we had ever left our cosy little 
flat to enter this desolation of riches and false luxury at all. 
The unsightly picture of the late Samuel Franklyn, Esq., 
stared down upon me from the farther end of the room 
above the mighty mantelpiece. He looked, I thought, like 
some pompous Heavenly Butler who denied to all the world, 
and to us in particular, the right of entry without presenta- 
tion cards signed by his hand as proof that we belonged to 
his own exclusive set. The majority, to his deep grief, and 
in spite of all his prayers on their behalf, must burn and 
" perish everlastingly." 



IV 

With the instinct of the healthy bachelor I always try to 
make myself a nest in the place I live in, be it for long or 
short. Whether visiting, in lodging-house, or in hotel, the 
first essential is this nest — one's own things built into the 
walls as a bird builds in its feathers. It may look desolate 
and uncomfortable enough to others, because the central 
detail is neither bed nor wardrobe, sofa, nor armchair, but 
a good solid writing-table that does not wriggle, and that 
has wide elbow-room. And The Towers is vividly described 
for me by the single fact that I could not " nest " there. I 
took several days to discover this, but the first impression of 
impermanence was truer than I knew. The feathers of the 
mind refused here to lie one way. They ruffled, pointed 
and grew wild. 

Luxurious furniture does not mean comfort ; I might as 
well have tried to settle down in the sofa and armchair 
department of a big shop. My bedroom was easily man- 
aged ; it was the private workroom, prepared especially for 



THE DAMNED 549 

my reception, that made me feel alien and outcast Ex- 
ternally, it was all one could desire : an ante-chamber to 
the great library, with not one, but two generous oak tables, 
to say nothing of smaller ones against the walls with capac- 
ious drawers. There were reading-desks, mechanical 
devices for holding books, perfect light, quiet as in a church, 
and no approach but across the huge adjoining room. Yet 
it did not invite. , 

" I hope you'll be able to work here," said my little 
hostess the next morning, as she took me in-her only visit 
to it while I stayed in the house-and showed me the ten- 
volume Catalogue. " It's absolutely quiet and no one will 

disturb you." , , 

" If you can't, Bill, you're not much good, laughed 

Frances, who was on her arm. " Even I could write in a 

study like this ! " , 

I glanced with pleasure at the ample tables, the sheets of 
thick blotting-paper, the rulers, sealing-wax, pap^ives, 
and all the other immaculate paraphernalia. Its 
perfect," I answered with a secret thrill, yet feeling a little 
foolish. This was for Gibbon or Carlyle, rather than for 
my pot-boiling insignificancies. " If I can't write master- 
pieces here, it's certainly not your fault," and I turned with 
gratitude to Mrs. Franklyn. She was looking straight at 
me, and there was a question in her small pale eyes I did 
not understand. Was she noting the effect upon me, 1 

wondered ? , „ 

" You'll write here— perhaps a story about the house, 
she said ; " Thompson will bring you anything you. want ; 
you only have to ring." She pointed to the electric bell on 
the central table, the wire running neatly down the leg. 
« No one has ever worked here before, and the library has 
been hardly used since it was put in. So there's no previous 
atmosphere to affect your imagination— er— adversely. 



55° STRANGE STORIES 

We laughed. " Bill isn't that sort," said my sister ; 
while I wished they would go out and leave me to arrange 
my little nest and set to work. 

I thought, of course, it was the huge listening library that 
made me feel so inconsiderable— the fifteen thousand silent, 
staring books, the solemn aisles, the deep, eloquent shelves. 
But when the women had gone and I was alone, the be- 
ginning of the truth crept over me, and I felt that first hint 
of disconsolateness which later became an imperative No. 
The mind shut down, images ceased to rise and flow. I 
read, made copious notes, but I wrote no single line at 
The Towers. Nothing completed itself there. Nothing 
happened. 

The morning sunshine poured into the library through ten 
long narrow windows ; birds were singing ; the autumn air, 
rich with a faint aroma of November melancholy that stung 
the imagination pleasantly, filled my ante-chamber. I 
looked out upon the undulating wooded landscape, hemmed 
in by the sweep of distant Downs, and I tasted a whiff of the 
sea. Rooks cawed as they floated above the elms, and there 
were lazy cows in the nearer meadows. A dozen times I 
tried to make my nest and settle down to work, and a 
dozen times, like a turning fastidious dog upon a hearth-rug, 
I rearranged my chair and books and papers. The tempta- 
tion of the Catalogue and shelves, of course, was accountable 
for much, yet not, I felt, for all. That was a manageable 
seduction. My work, moreover, was not of the creative 
kind that requires absolute absorption ; it was the mere 
readable presentation of data I had accumulated. My 
note-books were charged with facts ready to tabulate- 
facts, too, that interested me keenly. A mere effort of the 
will was necessary, and ccncentraticn of no difficult kind. 
Yet, somehow, it seemed beyond me : something for ever 
pushed the facts into disorder ... and in the end I sat in 



THE DAMNED S5 1 

the sunshine, dipping into a dozen books selected from the 
shelves outside, vexed with myself and only half-enjoying it. 
I felt restless. I wanted to be elsewhere. 

And even while I read, attention wandered. Frances, 
Mabel, her late husband, the house and grounds, each in 
turn and sometimes all together, rose uninvited into the 
stream of thought, hindering any consecutive flow of work. 
In disconnected fashion came these pictures that interrupted 
concentration, yet presenting themselves as broken frag- 
ments of a bigger thing my mind already groped for un- 
consciously. They fluttered round this hidden thing of 
which they were aspects, fugitive interpretations, no one of 
them bringing complete revelation. There was no adjective 
such as pleasant or unpleasant, that I could attach to what 
I felt, beyond that the result was unsettling. Vague as the 
atmosphere of a dream, it yet persisted, and I could not 
dissipate it. Isolated words or phrases in the lines I read 
sent questions scouring across my mind, sure sign that the 
deeper part of me was restless and ill at ease. 

Rather trivial questions too — half-foolish interrogations, 
as of a puzzled or curious child : Why was my sister afraid 
to sleep alone, and why did her friend feel a similar re- 
pugnance, yet seek to conquer it ? Why was the solid 
luxury of the house without comfort, its shelter without the 
sense of permanence ? Why had Mrs. Franklyn asked us 
to come, artists, unbelieving vagabonds, types at the 
farthest possible remove from the saved sheep of her 
husband's household ? Had a reaction set in against the 
hysteria of her conversion ? I had seen no signs of religious 
fervour in her ; her atmosphere was that of an ordinary, 
high-minded woman, yet a woman of the world. Lifeless, 
though, a little, perhaps, now that I came to think about it : 
she had made no definite impression upon me of any kind. 
And my thoughts ran vaguely after this fragile clue. 



552 STRANGE STORIES 

Closing my book, I let them run. For, with this chance 
reflection came the discovery that I could not see her 
clearly— could not feel her soul, her personality. Her face, 
her small pale eyes, her dress and body and walk, all these 
stood before me like a photograph ; but her Self evaded me. 
She seemed not there, lifeless, empty, a shadow— nothing. 
The picture was disagreeable, and I put it by. Instantly 
she melted out, as though light thought had conjured up a 
phantom that had no real existence. And at that very 
moment, singularly enough, my eye caught sight of her' 
moving past the window, going silently along the gravel 
path. I watched her, a sudden new sensation gripping me. 
" There goes a prisoner," my thought instantly ran, " one 
who wishes to escape, but cannot." 

What brought the outlandish notion, heaven only knows. 
The house was of her own choice, she was twice an heiress, 
and the world lay open at her feet. Yet she stayed- 
unhappy, frightened, caught. All this flashed over me, 
and made a sharp impression even before I had time to 
dismiss it as absurd. But a moment later explanation 
offered itself, though it seemed as far-fetched as the original 
impression. My mind, being logical, was obliged to provide 
something, apparently. For Mrs. Franklyn, while dressed 
to go out, with thick walking-boots, a pointed stick, and a 
motor-cap tied on with a veil as for the windy lanes, was 
obviously content to go no farther than the little garden 
paths. The costume was a sham and a pretence. It was 
this, and her lithe, quick movements that suggested a caged 
creature— a creature tamed by fear and cruelty that 
cloaked themselves in kindness — pacing up and down, 
unable to realise why it got no farther, but always met the 
same bars in exactly the same place. The mind in her was 
barred. 

I watched her go along the paths and down the steps from 



THE DAMNED 553 

one terrace to another, until the laurels hid her altogether ; 
and into this mere imagining of a moment came a hint of 
something slightly disagreeable, for which my mind, 
search as it would, found no explanation at all. I re- 
membered then certain other little things. They dropped 
into the picture of their own accord. In a mind not 
deliberately hunting for clues, pieces of a puzzle sometimes 
come together in this way, bringing revelation, so that for a 
second there flashed across me, vanishing instantly again 
before I could consider it, a large, distressing thought that I 
can only describe vaguely as a Shadow. Dark and ugly, 
oppressive certainly it might be described, with something 
torn and dreadful about the edges that suggested pain and 
strife and terror. The interior of a prison with two rows of 
occupied condemned cells, seen years ago in New York, 
sprang to memory after it — the connection between the two 
impossible to surmise even. But the " certain other little 
things " mentioned above were these : that Mrs. Franklyn, 
in last night's dinner talk, had always referred to " this 
house," but never called it " home " ; and had emphasised 
unnecessarily, for a well-bred woman, our " great kindness " 
in coming down to stay so long with her. Another time, in 
answer to my futile compliment about the " stately rooms," 
she said quietly, " It is an enormous house for so small a 
party ; but I stay here very little, and only till I get it 
straight again." The three of us were going up the great 
staircase to bed as this was said, and, not knowing quite her 
meaning, I dropped the subject. It edged delicate ground, 
I felt. Frances added no word of her own. It now 
occurred to me abruptly that " stay " was the word made 
use of, when " live " would have been more natural. How 
insignificant to recall! Yet why did they suggest them- 
selves just at this moment ? . . . And, on going to Frances's 
room to make sure she was not nervous or lonely, I realised 



554 STRANGE STORIES 

abruptly, that Mrs. Franklyn, of course, had talked with 
her in a confidential sense that I, as a mere visiting brother, 
could not share. Frances had told me nothing. I might 
easily have wormed it out of her, had I not felt that for us to 
discuss further our hostess and her house merely because we 
were under the roof together, was not quite nice or loyal. . . 
" I'll call you, Bill, if I'm scared," she had laughed as we 
parted, my room being just across the big corridor from her 
own. I had fallen asleep, thinking what in the world was 
meant by " getting it straight again." 

And now in my ante-chamber to the library, on the 
second morning, sitting among piles of foolscap and sheets 
of spotless blotting-paper, all useless to me, these slight hints 
came back and helped to frame the big, vague Shadow I 
have mentioned. Up to the neck in this Shadow, almost 
drowned, yet just treading water, stood a figure of my 
hostess in her walking costume. Frances and I seemed 
swimming to her aid. The Shadow was large enough to 
include both bouse and grounds, but farther than that I 
could not see. . . . Dismissing it, I fell to reading my 
purloined book again. Before I turned another page, 
however, another startling detail leaped out at me : the 
figure of Mrs. Franklyn in the Shadow was not living. It 
floated helplessly, like a doll or puppet that has no life in it. 
it was both pathetic and dreadful. 

Any one who sits in reverie thus, of course, may see 
similar ridiculous pictures when the will no longer guides 
construction. The incongruities of dreams are thus 
explained. I merely record the picture as it came. That it 
remained by me for several days, just as vivid dreams do, is 
neither here nor there. I did not allow myself to dwell 
upon it. The curious thing, perhaps, is that from this 
moment I date my inclination, though not yet my desire, to 
leave. I purposely say " to leave." I cannot quite 



THE DAMNED 555 

remember when the word changed to that aggressive, 
frantic thing which is escape. 



We were left delightfully to ourselves in this pretentious 
country mansion with the soul of a villa. Frances took up 
her painting again, and, the weather being propitious, spent 
hours out of doors, sketching flowers, trees and nooks of 
woodland, garden, even the house itself where bits of it 
peered suggestively across the orchards. Mrs. Franklyn 
seemed always busy about something or other, and never 
interfered with us except to propose motoring, tea in another 
part of the lawn, and so forth. She flitted everywhere, 
preoccupied, yet apparently doing nothing. The house 
engulfed her rather. No visitors called. For one thing, 
she was not supposed to be back from abroad yet ; and for 
another, I think, the neighbourhood — her husband's 
neighbourhood — was puzzled by her sudden cessation from 
good works. Brigades and temperance societies did not 
ask to hold their meetings in the big hall, and the vicar 
arranged the school-treats in another's field without 
explanation. The full-length portrait in the dining-room, 
and the presence of the housekeeper with the " burnt " 
back-hair, indeed, were the only reminders of the man who 
once had lived here. Mrs. Marsh retained her place in 
silence, well-paid sinecure as it doubtless was, yet with 
hint of that suppressed disapproval one might have ex- 
pected from her. Indeed there was nothing positive to 
disapprove, since nothing " worldly " entered grounds or 
building. In her master's life-time she had been another 
" brand snatched from the burning," and it had then been 
her custom to give vociferous " testimony " at the revival 



556 STRANGE STORIES 

meetings where he adorned the platform and led in streams 
of prayer. I saw her sometimes on the stairs, hovering, 
wandering, half-watching and half-listening, and the idea 
came to me once that this woman somehow formed a link 
with the departed influnece of her bigoted employer. She, 
alone among us, belonged to the house, and looked at home 
there. When I saw her talking — oh, with such correct and 
respectful mien— to Mrs. Franklyn, I had the feeling that 
for all her unaggressive attitude, she yet exerted some 
influence that sought to make her mistress stay in the 
building for ever — live there. She would prevent her 
escape, prevent her "getting it straight again," thwart 
somehow her will to freedom, if she could. The idea in me 
was of the most fleeting kind. But another time, when I 
came down late at night to get a book from the library ante- 
chamber, and found her sitting in the hall — alone — the 
impression left upon me was the reverse of fleeting. I can 
never forget the vivid, disagreeable effect it produced upon 
me. What was she doing there at half-past eleven at night, 
all alone in the darkness ? She was sitting upright, stiff, 
in a big chair below the clock. It gave me a turn. It was 
so incongruous and odd. She rose quietly as I turned the 
corner of the stairs, and asked me respectfully, her eyes cast 
down as usual, whether I had finished with the library, so 
that she might lock up. There was no more to it than that ; 
but the picture stayed with me — unpleasantly. 

These various impressions came to me at odd moments, 
of course, and not in a single sequence as I now relate them. 
I was hard at work before three days were past, not writing, 
as explained, but reading, making notes, and gathering 
material from the library for future use. It was in chance 
moments that these curious flashes came, catching me 
unawares with a touch of surprise that sometimes made me 
start. For they proved that my under-mind was still 



THE DAMNED 557 

conscious of the Shadow, and that far away out of sight lay 
the cause of it that left me with a vague unrest, unsettled, 
seeking to " nest " in a place that did not want me. Only 
when this deeper part knows harmony, perhaps, can good 
brain work, result, and my inability to write was thus 
explained. Certainly, I was always seeking for something 
here I could not find — an explanation that continually 
evaded me. Nothing but these trivial hints offered 
themselves. Lumped together, however, they had the 
effect of defining the Shadow a little. I became more and 
more aware of its very real existence. And, if I have made 
little mention of Frances and my hostess in this connection, 
it is because they contributed at first little or nothing 
towards the discovery of what this story tries to tell. Our 
life was wholly external, normal, quiet, and uneventful ; 
conversation banal — Mrs. Franklyn's conversation in 
particular. They said nothing that suggested revelation. 
Both were in this Shadow, and both knew that they were in 
it, but neither betrayed by word nor act a hint of inter- 
pretation. They talked privately, no doubt, but of that I 
can report no details. 

And so it was that, after ten days of a very common- 
place visit, I found myself looking straight into the face of a 
Strangeness that defied capture at close quarters. " There's 
something here that never happens," were the words that 
rose in my mind, " and that's why none of us can speak of 
it." And as I looked out of the window and watched the 
vulgar blackbirds, with toes turned in, boring out their 
worms, I realised sharply that even they, as indeed every- 
thing large and sm